Content note: This post discusses rape, child abuse and rape apologism
It happens every time a famous man is accused of sexual violence. A torrent of rape apologism as patriarchy gets in gear to maintain itself. The steps to this dance usually the same: the tango of smearing and blaming and conspiracy theories goes on. Those of us who seek to overturn rape culture are getting better and better at advocating for an ethos wherein survivors are believed. We say “I believe her”, because we know that it’s more likely for a man to be hit by an asteroid than it is for him to have been falsely accused. We say “I believe her” loudly, proudly and publicly to oppose the status quo.
And it looks like we have made great headway in publicly expressing our support for survivors, because the backlash has begun.
Obviously, there’s the standard drivel from the standard misogynists, the well-choreographed dance of “no evidence” which misses the point entirely, but Suzanne Moore has stepped up to the plate with an attack on the very core of “I believe her”. In a confused piece surrounding Dylan Farrow’s brave public words about the child abuse she experienced at the hands of Woody Allen, Moore decides that those tweeting in support of Dylan are a “mob” and a “kangaroo court”. While Moore says she is inclined to believe Dylan, she thinks people should not be tweeting publicly that they believe her and fixates on some sort of putative superiority of the justice system. It’s already been explained why Moore is flat-out wrong in comparing mass gestures of support and solidarity for a survivor with a kangaroo court, and it’s also worth noting that Moore might have a bit of an axe to grind regarding Twitter which has blurred her judgment and stopped her from understanding the very basic ethos of “I believe her”.
First and foremost, “I believe her” is a reaction to the way rape culture is stacked. When it comes to sexual violence, too often there is no physical evidence, the smoking gun that “proves” that it has happened. Traditionally, under patriarchy and rape culture, this works in favour of the accused. It is their denial that is believed, rather than what the survivor has said. “I believe her” takes into account the balance of probabilities and turns it on its head, starting from a position of believing that what the survivor says happened is true, because statistically speaking, it is overwhelmingly likely to be the case. To speak out about an experience of sexual violence is not a thing taken lightly: we all know that when we do this, in the court of public opinion we will be, for the most part, utterly eviscerated, because rape culture is a juggernaut.
Most of us don’t want to engage with the legal system, because we know what it’s like. We know that it is these beliefs lurking in the back of people’s minds, codified. And we know how that is instrumentalised by rape apologists, that if we cannot engage with the legal system, or if we the legal system fails us, that means that we as survivors are the ones lying. It is no coincidence that so much of Moore’s piece focuses on how Dylan Farrow’s case was thrown out of court, or that we should focus on a better legal system, because the notion of starting from believing survivors and how the legal system works are diametrically opposed.
The aim of “I believe her”, then, is not to directly work within the legal system to make it better, because the legal system is but one manifestation of rape culture. The aim of “I believe her” is to throw down a challenge to a notion as old as patriarchy: that the accuser, not the accused is the liar. From a position of believing a survivor, it is easier to speak out, to intervene however the survivor wants, and to start to dismantle the millennia of social conditioning to which we have all been party.
I was silent for years about what happened to me, afraid of not being believed. Then I learned about how some people start from a position of “I believe her”. It was interesting: the woman being believed was not me. All there was to go on was her words. What had happened to her was nothing like what had happened to me. But it empowered me to speak out nonetheless, to tear through the silence.
And this is why it’s so important to make loud and public declarations. Survivors see and hear it. Survivors see that society is no longer a monolith of blame and wild accusations of lying based on no evidence whatsoever. Survivors see hope, and are more likely to come forward.
Silence is the biggest weapon patriarchy has in keeping rape culture alive, and “I believe her” starts to tear down this wall and encourage and empower survivors to speak out.
Because of this, it is crucial that we resist the attacks on this notion, the slurring it as “mobs” and “kangaroo courts”, because it isn’t. It’s solidarity in the face of patriarchy, and we should be proud that it is starting to terrify those who would rather we shut up.