News of powerful men in Hollywood losing their careers because of sexual assault, Senator Roy Moore of Alabama being accused of sexual assault and rape, and even the hashtag #WeKnowWhatYouDid have all become hot topics of discussion at Atlanta University Center in Atlanta, fueling fierce debates among students and others regarding the hot button issues of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. I, myself, have engaged in several such debates on Facebook.
These discussions have been draining, as draining, in fact, as many discussions I have had about racism. Sexism is just as pervasive as racism in this country. Often when we discuss issues around sexism the same techniques that are used to continuously silence the voices of people of color regarding racism are used to silence women when we speak up about sexism, rape, sexual assault and harassment. One of the biggest issues when discussing sexual violence against women is the fact that any time a woman brings up sexual violence the immediate knee jerk reaction from many men (and some women) is to think the woman is lying. It is very similar to the, “What about black on black crime?” argument that many racists use when people of color speak up about police brutality. It has nothing to do with the actual problem, yet it seems many men feel it is a valid point when talking about men sexually assaulting women.
The very real problem with rape, sexual assault, and harassment is men. Men are the problem. Yet, here we are again analyzing the behavior of women when the real problem is men. Jackson Katz discusses this in his TED Talk, “Violence against women — it’s a men’s issue.” No matter how many times men rape women, [according to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)], “As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.” men continue to focus on whether women lie about rape. The fact is, rape, sexual assault and harassment is a MALE problem for women AND men. “For female rape survivors, 98.1% of the time a man was the perpetrator.” “For male rape survivors, 93% of the time, a man was the perpetrator.”
While the facts show that men are the main issue when it comes to rape, sexual assault and harassment, the sexist patriarchal culture that we live it continuously turns the conversation back to women and women’s behavior. Any time a woman accuses a man of rape or sexual assault her accusation is immediately viewed with doubt. This is also why many women don’t come forward about being raped or sexually assaulted. On top of being viewed as lying about being raped or assaulted women are then scrutinized for their behavior and often blamed for their own assaults. That is the rape culture that we live in today.
Our societal rape culture has created an environment where not only is the discussion about men and their behavior not the focus of the rape and sexual assault conversation, men who rape are RARELY held accountable. Right now out of every 1000 rapes only 344 are reported. That means that 60% of women who are raped do not even report it. On top of that out of 1000 rapes 994 will walk free. That means out of ONE THOUSAND RAPES only SIX men will see jail time. This is not by coincidence. Sexism and patriarchy have been silencing the voices of women for centuries while allowing men to go unpunished for their assaults against women, until right now. Only very recently have men, powerful men, been held accountable for their transgressions against women. However, let’s get back to the topic of whether women lie about being raped.
Do women lie about rape and sexual assault? Short answer, yes, some women do. In fact, I will confess that because of racism and the history of this country I usually view white women who accuse black men of sexual assault and rape with a higher rate of skepticism than I do other women because so many black men have been jailed and even murdered (Emmett Till) because a white women lied. However, the incidence of women lying about rape and sexual assault is LOW, between 2-10%. The incidence of rape for women is 1 in 5 as compared to men 1 in 71. That’s just rape. That doesn’t include sexual assault. Just based on the numbers, if you are a woman you are 14 times more likely to be raped in your lifetime than if you are a man. However, despite the numbers blatantly showing men are raping women and men, our rape culture continues to doubt women when they come forward with their accusations.
In fact, this article was written to discredit the statistics about the low rate of women lying about rape. The article states, “Readers could easily interpret [the quoted study] to mean that when a woman files a complaint about sexual assault, then an assault did in fact occur over 90 percent of the time. That interpretation is wrong.” The article goes on to say, “Specifically, in their analysis of sexual-assault cases at a large university, the authors found that 5.9 percent of cases were provably false. However, 44.9 percent of cases “did not proceed” – meaning there was insufficient evidence, the accuser was uncooperative, or the incident did not meet the legal standard of assault. An additional 13.9 percent of cases could not be categorized due to lack of information. That leaves 35.3 percent of cases that led to formal charges or discipline against the accused. There is obviously a lot of uncertainty here, a lot of he-said/she-said when allegations are filed. It would be a mistake to conclude, on the basis of the existing evidence, that nine out of ten assault claims are genuine.”
This article tries to establish that the allegations of assault which did not lead to formal charges are not true. But, let’s look at this statement more deeply; 13.9 percent of cases could not be categorized due to lack of information. That doesn’t mean an assault did not happen; it means the authorities did not have enough information. It also says that 44.9 percent of the cases “did not proceed.” This is where the author puts in his own assumptions as to why the cases did not proceed. Remember, for every 1000 rapes, only 6 men go to jail. Our society repeatedly does not prosecute men for rape and sexual assault. This author, who while trying to accuse women of lying, fails to see the true problem, that rape and sexual assault are not properly prosecuted in this country. That doesn’t mean women are lying about being raped, that means no one believes women when they do speak up about rape and no one goes to jail, which gives the false perception that women must be lying.
Why do so many men feel that women lie about rape, sexual assault and harassment?? Because they have been brought up to believe that women lie about being raped. It is a false belief. And, until men recognize this false belief and start seeing the truth about men raping women at an epidemic rate, rape culture will continue.
So, the next time a woman speaks up about rape, sexual assault or harassment, believe her!