Why is it so Hard for us to Believe Victims?
We've all gave Eddie Long, Penn State, Syracuse, and Herman Cain the benefit of the doubt, even if for a second
It seems like you can’t turn on your television these days without hearing another story about abuse. Abuse of women. Even worse abuse of children. Sexual and physical violence are common place even though some choose to live in denial of this fact.
As someone who writes frequently about these topics, the culmination of the stories at Penn State, Syracuse, with Herman Cain, and Eddie Long’s wife seeking a divorce have all highlighted a trend in our society that should end.
It’s almost impossible for us to believe victims who come forward with allegations of sexual assault, harassment and abuse. While the accused is innocent until proven guilty, instead of striking a balance we immediately blame the victim for what happened to them or accuse them of lying.
The truth is that only 3% of victims that ever report crimes of sexual assault are proven to have lied. That number is of course the percentage of reported cases. Only 40 percent of rapes are reported, leaving 60% unreported. Factoring in these unreported rapes only 6% of rapists ever set a foot in jail. Furthermore, 1 in every 4 women and 1 in every 10 men will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. All this means, there are a large number of victims who not only have never received justice but they also have had to go through the horror of not being believed when they were one of the few brave enough to come forward. This also means there are a lot of rapists walking around free having gotten away with their crime.
Bishop Eddie Long’s accusers were among those brave souls who spoke out and reported abuse. At the time, Bishop Long had many defenders. When photos of the Bishop in tight clothing surfaced that he allegedly sent the boys, he of course lost some support but unbelievably he still had those who could easily accuse the boys of lying but who believed Bishop Long despite the evidence against him. It wasn't perhaps until his wife filed for divorce last week that folks woke up and thought the original allegations may indeed be the truth even after he settled the case the civil case in binding arbitration.
This is so common. Penn State and Syracuse are both stories about Division I sports programs mired by allegations of sexual abuse of young boys but they are not the same. While at Penn State actual witnesses to the alleged rape of children by Assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, did not allow for victim blaming as much as in other cases, at Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim was quick to defend his assistant and defame the accusers with allegations that they were liars and perhaps seeking money. In the face of damning evidence, he has since apologized.
Also, in the news of late former Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain who was accused of sexual harassment by 4 different women, 2 of which we learned of publicly, and 1 long term affair with a woman named Ginger White. His defenders were swift to call all of the women liars, "pathetic," and “husbandless” only seeking to take this great man down. Once again, we trash the accuser to defend the accused.
The truth is it is extremely difficult for victims to come forward. Both victims of abuse, assault, and harassment. Not all three of these crimes are equivalent. But the treatment of the victims in all of these cases is similar. The idea that a victim is automatically lying about something so personal and tragic in their lives but the accused who has every reason to lie is somehow in this instance telling the truth is a problem that needs to be changed. Also, troubling still is that accusers lives’ are dissected instead of the accused. Turns out there is no program that teaches women and men to live their entire lives in anticipation of having to make these types of allegations publicly. Maybe only a nun would stand up to such scrutiny.
You have every right to a defense in a court of law but the accusations hurled at accusers in the court of public opinion is an unjust trend that must cease to exist. We will have made progress when someone can bravely come forward to report allegations of sexual assault and the public (and the law) has a laser like focus on the actions of the accused first and foremost.