(TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and other sexual violence, with detailed descriptions of victim-blaming and negative attitudes towards survivors; also mention of suicide. NOTE: In terms of the legal stuff, I’m referring to the UK throughout, although the underlying attitudes are present internationally)
The world is obsessed with proving that survivors of sexual violence are liars.
If you were in a relationship with the perpetrator, they’ll call you a liar – despite the high prevalence of relationship abuse.
If you consented at some other time, they’ll call you a liar – apparently that means you’ve given up your freedom and autonomy forever.
If you “acted normal” afterwards, and only spoke out later, they’ll call you a liar – even though abuse takes time to process, or you could have feared retribution such as being repeatedly called a liar.
If there was no sign of a physical struggle, they’ll call you a liar – even though freezing or “friending” the perpetrator is the most common survival response.
If your statements contain even the slightest inconsistency, they’ll call you a liar – even though that’s exactly what trauma does to you.
If you were drinking, they’ll call you liar – apparently you don’t have the right to drink AND maintain bodily autonomy.
If the perpetrator was drinking, they’ll call you a liar – they’ve changed their minds, turns out alcohol actually absolves you of all responsibility and also magically erases the damage done.
If you were wearing clothes more revealing than the patriarchal world would approve of, they’ll call you a liar – it seems you should have known that the awful crime of “wearing what you want” is punished with sexual violence.
If you in some way don’t conform to an often impossible, racist, transphobic, ableist, fatphobic beauty standard, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll say “who would want you?!”
If you’re a male survivor, they’ll call you a liar – because “men’s rights activists” tend to ignore the fact that men are far more likely to suffer sexual assault themselves than they are to be falsely accused, and only even vaguely acknowledge you exist when they want to shut the damn feminists up.
If you enjoy sex, they’ll call you a liar – apparently they don’t think consent makes a difference, which frankly says a lot about them.
If you’re a sex worker, they’ll call you a liar – see above, and I’m assuming these people also think it would be okay for someone to drop a load of legal textbooks on my head because, like, isn’t that what you DO?!
If you’re mentally ill/neurodivergent, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll call you crazy, they’ll say you’re living in a fantasy world, they’ll say all sorts of ableist things, they’ll gaslight you because it’s more convenient for them if it’s all in your head.
I’m zoning in on the Eleanor de Freitas case here. In short, this woman, who had bipolar disorder, made an allegation of rape, which the CPS refused to prosecute. The accused man then took out a private prosecution against her for speaking up, and the CPS took that case; Eleanor de Freitas had been receiving counselling for rape trauma, this support was cut off, and she ultimately took her own life. I wrote a few tweets about this awful case the other day, and received a reply from an obviously-fake-news-account directing me to “proof Eleanor de Freitas was lying”; it was a professional-looking dot-com domain, certainly enough to fool people, and the only “proof” it contained was… that she was mentally ill, that the police didn’t like her very much, that she bought sex toys the next day, and that she was allegedly a sex worker.
None of those things say anything about whether or not a perpetrator raped her, but in the eyes of many, these failures to comply with patriarchal norms are “proof” and she’s a liar.
You’re all liars, they say, because the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty exists. Even though the attitudes above mean that the police often “no-crime” sexual violence, so there’s no opportunity to go to trial. Even though making false accusations is also a crime, and there suddenly everyone forgets about the legal presumption, going so far as to set up websites dedicated to portraying the accuser as guilty, on no real evidence, without a trial, when they’re already dead due to how survivors are treated by the justice system as it stands. Even though when a perpetrator of sexual violence is proven guilty, they’ll still claim it’s a miscarriage of justice and set up websites to clear his name – Ched Evans, anyone? These people don’t really care about the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty; they only care about the societal presumption of liar liar liar liar liar.
This is the dominant attitude of society, which means it’s also the dominant attitude of our judges, our lawyers, our CPS, our police, our juries, and the media they (and we all) consume. The conviction rates for rape and sexual violence are shockingly low. Is it any wonder, then, that feminists (and others) have lost their faith in the justice system, and taken the stance of believing everyone who speaks out about sexual violence against them, providing one voice of “I believe you” in amongst the constant noise of liar?
Some people are far more concerned about men being falsely accused and “having their lives ruined” even when found innocent. Honestly, I’m not sure this actually happens – it seems to me that if it’s high-profile enough to be newsworthy, they’re portrayed sympathetically (because the accuser is a liar, obviously), and indeed, anonymity for those suspected of sexual violence is actually being considered, even though the preferential treatment here above suspects of other crimes perpetuates the liar stereotype, and it is often the case that one survivor speaking out against their perpetrator gives others the courage to come forward (because maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually be believed).
But if you really are still so concerned about innocent people suspected of sexual violence, how about ending victim-blaming attitudes, ending the liar myth, combating rape culture, and creating a society and a justice system that provides verdicts we can trust?
A petition to the Home Office Select Committee to review their recommendation on anonymity for suspects accused of rape and other forms of sexual violence can be found here.