Every time I speak out about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, someone screams “false accusations” or “innocent until proven guilty” or “women assault men too” or all three at me. Every. Single. Time.
Let me be very clear, I believe survivors. I will never stop believing survivors. Will I be wrong to believe someone at some point? Probably, but it’s highly unlikely, so I will always err on the side of believing someone who says they have been harassed or assaulted. Always.
Let’s break this down a bit.
False accusations of sexual assault are between 2% and 8% of reports, BUT every credible source (peer-reviewed paper, government report, etc.) that reports this percentage range ALSO reports that this is likely to be inflated by numerous factors, including – but not limited to – how police categorize “unfounded” cases (cases where there is not enough evidence to proceed, but doesn’t mean the allegation is false), cases where a third party reports a crime they believe to have occurred, cases where the survivor withdraws complaint, etc. What continues to remain true, though, is that – whilst false accusations to happen (usually related to infidelity or other fears of repercussions) – they happen at no greater a rate than false accusations for all other crimes.
Innocent until proven guilty applies in a court of law. It does not have merit in the court of public opinion. If someone tells me to stay away from someone because he has sexually assaulted someone in the past, it is far more likely that I am just going to stay away from that person than it is that I am going to interrogate them or disbelieve them and take my chances.
When we know that most sexual assaults aren’t even reported to police (95% to 97% are not reported, but – in 2014 – 553,000 women self-reported sexual assault on Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization) and we further know that of the ones that are reported, the number that make it through the judicial system drops lower and lower at every stage, until we reach only 3 in 1,000 leading to conviction, we cannot live our lives based on the court’s high test of “innocent until proven guilty.” The court’s test is and should be very high if it means taking someone’s freedom away; however, even when someone receives a verdict of “not guilty,” it still doesn’t actually mean they are innocent; “not guilty” does not translate to “factually untrue.” Rather, it simply means that the evidence is not strong enough to convict in a court of law. I would suggest that every single one of us knows someone or knows of someone who we would caution people about, regardless of whether or not they’ve been formally charged or convicted.
Finally, “whilst women assault men too” is factually accurate, there are numerous problems with this proclamation. First, I have only ever seen it raised in response to concerns about sexual violence against girls and women. I know of no one who is actively engaged in providing programs or services to men who are assaulted by women. Second, men simply are not assaulted by women at the same rate as women are assaulted by men. It’s not even close. Now, of course, there are barriers to men reporting assaults by women to police (hello, patriarchy and toxic masculinity), but the facts are clear that the issue of women sexually assaulting men is a tiny fraction of the overall issue. More often, when boys or men are sexually assaulted, the perpetrator is a man.
Sexual assault is the only crime in Canada that is on the rise. Sexual assault is – generally speaking – the only crime where first questions are often: “what were you wearing?”; “what did you think was going to happen?”; “why did you wait so long to report this?”; or “but hadn’t you had sex with him before?” No one asks someone who has been robbed what they were wearing or asks if they had given the robber money before.
Based on this (and all of the other things I know – both through lived experience and research), I am always going to believe survivors. I’ll take my chances on the very rare instance where I might be wrong.
- One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
- One in six men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.
- Only 5% of survivors report to the police.
- The perpetrator is known to the victim in 82% of sexual assaults.
- 47% of violent crimes against girls under the age of 12 are sexual in nature
- Alcohol is most commonly used drug in drug facilitated sexual assaults.
- Only 2-8% of rape claims are false reports.
- 28% of Canadians say they have been on the receiving end of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, or sexually-charged talk while on the job.
- 91% of men would like to intervene if they knew someone was in a violent relationship.
- Clothes don’t cause rape.