Q: “Is it ever OK not to believe?”

In this world of Political Correctness, is it ever ok to have a non-PC opinion? To voice that opinion? Or is that something that you keep hidden because of the perceived wrongness of it? Specifically, with the recent bombardment of sexual assault accusations, I’ve noticed a tone of disbelief surrounding the allegations. Many comments read as – not victim shaming- but victim disbelief. For example – Kevin Spacey’s accuser waited nearly 30 years to come forward – How much of his statements have to be taken with a grain of salt? Is it ever ok to not 100% believe the victim? To have serious questions about their story?

If someone’s first reaction to a story about sexual assault is disbelief, I feel that the more important question is “why are you struggling to believe this person?” I think asking these kinds of questions of oneself is important and in the end, much more difficult than questioning a person that we don’t even know.

I’m not saying that every single person who has ever said they were sexually assaulted was telling the truth. I would say that by a huge margin most are. I would also say that letting a handful of bad seeds impact the perception of the prevalence of sexual assault – and why victims wait so long to come out – kinda sucks.

I get having a questioning mind and wanting to know the truth. But we’re not the authority on their story. We don’t know anything about their experience. And offering ourselves into the conversation as some kind of faux-testimonial to that experience really, just… again, kinda sucks. 

If we start building this scale of believability we trap ourselves in little boxes of who is an acceptable victim. They have to report to these specific authorities, in this specific time. They have to look a certain way. Be of a certain socio-economic status. They must be beautiful and interesting. People must look at them and think the story they are telling is believable. It’s fucked up to judge a story on these characteristics.

And, of course, the issue of men being sexually assaulted is another thing entirely that we have barely tapped into. It is difficult to have this conversation alongside the issue of men-assualting-women because when we’re discussing power dynamics and gender equity, this is often where the conversation begins. Both conversations are important to have and they intersect at multiple places.

I can completely understand why a person who had been assaulted by a man, especially a man of significant social status, would not immediately come forward. Would you want to become famous for calling out a powerful man? To detail your assault publicly, risk coming out in the open with that story, and have no one believe you? Have it derail your life, your safety, your career? How difficult it is to face that head on? How it could impact your family? It’s easy to make assumptions and judgments when you haven’t been there. But that situation, true or not, isn’t a game to pick at. There are people who get paid to seriously ask these questions. They get paid to make their best (often terrible) determination of what happened. I’m not that person. Most of us probably aren’t.

In the end, I think it’s always better to step back and listen. Not only is it more constructive, but it’s also a more effective way to express compassion in a world that is seriously and deeply lacking it.

And, in the process, do what you can to support the people who are helping end sexual assault & sexual violence. A quick google will lead you to all kinds of organizations near wherever you are.

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  1. I have a very close friend who was wrongly accused of sexual assault (in reality, she initiated the encounter and he was the drunker of the two! She got mad when he passed out halfway through and then didn’t want to see her again, and told all her friends he raped her.) She also accused several other people, including some who didn’t even have sex with her (at least one other friend rejected her advances, which pissed her off, and… there you go.) I think this must have been her go-to response to feelings of rejection, at some point, which is really messed up. And I hate her for it, not because of what it did to my friends (most people figured out that she was a serial liar, and she never tried to go to the police or anything, so my friends were hurt but ultimately okay.) But because it’s already SO HARD to be taken seriously as a victim and when people do shit like this, it makes it so much worse for the many, many women who actually *were* assaulted. Ugggggh.

    We had a different but similar issue recently where a black man was caught spray-painting racist, anti-black graffiti, presumably to stir up tensions. And it sucks so much because racism IS a huge issue but now people are skeptical as to the real extent of the problem. Like, dude, WHAT ARE YOU DOING because it is definitely NOT HELPING.

    1. That is all so frustrating to hear. You’re right, these people are creating a distraction from the very real issue and making it more difficult for these victims voices to be heard.

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