Trigger warning: this post discusses and links to attacks on rape survivors who talk about their experiences
“I don’t believe you”. These words squat at the back of survivors’ minds, a little silencing gremlin. We fear not being believed, and it keeps us quiet and allows aggressors to go unchallenged. It allows rape culture to flourish and thrive.
It isn’t an unfounded fear. This vile little phrase drops like a guillotine blade wherever survivors dare to speak.
It lurks at every corner. Sometimes it seems small, like many tweeters declaring they disbelieved young vocal feminist journalist Laurie Penny’s account of misogynistic, aggressive bullying from a drunk David Starkey. Other times, it’s enormous with people telling a survivor that a horrific sexual attack she was brave enough to publicly talk about must not have happened. It’s all part of the same problem. It silences our voices.
It is due to this culture that the I Did Not Report twitter account had to deactivate and move to a more moderateable space. Twitter was not a safe space for survivors to share their experiences. Anonymous defenders of rape sprang up, uttering that despicable little phrase and far, far more.
They want us to shut up. They want us to stop talking about what happened to us. Those four seemingly-benign words are violence, coercion, a weapon. Hearing them is agony. The knowledge that they might be unsheathed is often enough to silence.
This is all so upside-down, arse-backwards fucked up.
Too often, it is only the voices of the defenders of rape and their powerful catchphrase that is heard. This is something that must change.
Where you see a survivor speaking out, commend them. Tell them you believe them. Make it known that for every mouthy little shit wanting to conserve a culture of rape and violence, there are hundreds who believe survivors. Drown out those ugly little voices. Do not be afraid to call out the apologists. They need to hear that they are wrong, dangerously so.
It is a sorry state of affairs when the three most gratifyingly beautiful words in the English language are currently “I believe you”. Yet they are, and these are words that must be shouted.
11 thoughts on “This week in misogyny: “I don’t believe you””
It’s also worth remembering that just because someone’s account of events differs from their attacker’s, or the from final legal verdict, or even from actual reality, that doesn’t mean they lied.
Trusting someone doesn’t just mean believing their version of events to be true, it also means believing that even if it’s inaccurate, they gave it in good faith. Pretty much everyone is aware that human memory is flawed and witness testimony is often unreliable or contradictory. But for some reason it’s only ever rape where people expect the main witness to have lied through her teeth out of sheer, inexplicable malice.
If a person is less than 100% sure of what happened to them, they also need to be able to come forward in the confidence that they’ll be heard out, without their motives being questioned. At the same time, people also need to know they don’t have to downplay their certainty for fear of being called a liar. And of course, every time a court case ends in an acquittal because of the presumption of innocence, we need to presume the person who brought the charges is entirely innocent of lying.
These are all incredibly important points, thank you for making them!
It must surely be worse if alcohol is involved. I’m sure any lawyer defending an alleged rapist will jump at the chance to question the memory of the accuser if she/he has had a few to drink.
And here’s the thing. It SHOULDN’T be that way.
Or if the person was drugged. Or if it happened in the dark. Or if it was a traumatic experience.
There are plenty of reasons why someone’s memory of a rape might be unreliable, and none of them reflect at all badly on their character, any more than the entirely legitimate activity of impairing your memory with alcohol.
A defence lawyer doesn’t pluck a defence narrative off the shelf, dust it off and get the defendant to try it on for size – ooh suits you sir !. Instead, what happens is that the defendant tells the lawyer his version of events and then the lawyer cross-examines the complainant on that basis.
So if the defendant is saying that consenting sex was had after they’d been drinking but that the complainant was not so drunk at that particular time that she wasn’t able to give consent – then as far as the defence team is concerned ‘this is what happened’
The prosecution puts its case – its evidence calls its witnesses and then the defence puts its. Then the Judge sums up the case – pointing out for example, any common rape myths that might have arisen and after that the jury has a go at deciding if the prosecution has succeeded in ‘coming up to proof’ against the defendant.
If any one else has a better idea – let’s hear it…
What the defence should not do – and indeed don’t – is fish around in the witness box hoping that to catch the complainant out. There is a good rule for defence lawyers – try not to ask a question of a witness, to which you don’t already know the answer.
There was something that really broke my heart in Natasha Smith’s report of her attack in Tahrir square. She mentioned, in the midst of the attack, that she tried in vain to protect her camera.
I don’t know if it was her selfless courage – trying to protect the project she knew was so important. Or if it was just something I could relate to – the “save the camera” instinct has nearly killed me on a few occasions, and I’m sure every journalist or cameraperson has similar stories. Either way, it was an emotive touch that hit me in a personal way.
And then some fuckwit posted that they didn’t believe her story because “all you could think about was saving your camera.” It made me want to cry, and I’m just some privileged white guy on the internet. How could you say that to someone who had survived an attack like that?
I honestly cannot understand that mindset. It’s so vile. I’ve spent the afternoon close to tears over some of the behaviour in that comment thread.
Some people are actually just posting things like “Too long; didn’t read” … it’s hard to maintain any faith in humainty.