By Dr. Michelle Rosynsky, CEO, YWCA Greater Flint
Let me start by saying that the YWCA Greater Flint always BELIEVES SURVIVORS of sexual assault. My colleagues and I have been pondering the outcome of a recent sexual assault case. A jury of mostly women unanimously agreed that despite the evidence presented, which included eyewitness testimony and camera footage, the accused was not guilty of sexual assault.
I personally struggle with this decision, as do many service providers who work with sexual assault survivors on a daily basis. I am trying to reconcile the facts of the case and the decision that was made, as well as the comments I read on social media.
We have witnessed this time and again in high profile cases like the Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, as well as in those closer to home. Sexual assault victims are not believed.
We have an established norm that when a woman accuses someone of sexual assault or rape, we make excuses for the perpetrator and immediately think:
What was she wearing?
She kissed him, so she wanted sex!
She’s just loose, she asked for!
She’s lying just to get attention
We live in a misogynistic, victim-blaming society. Misogyny is the fear and hatred of women and dates back centuries. From a very early age girls and boys are taught that girls aren’t strong or smart, and boys are. Confident women are bitches, but confident men are intelligent and effective leaders. We are taught that girls and women are sexual objects to be conquered. Like Shadia Duske states, this notion is constantly reiterated in advertising, movies, song lyrics, and in the way boys and girls are expected to behave. Violence is promoted as sexy and male sexual aggression is encouraged. (See https://msmagazine.com/2016/01/04/toxic-culture-101-understanding-the-sexualization-of-women/)
This is known as rape culture. Think about it, there are examples all around us:
Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
Trivializing or excusing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
Sexually explicit jokes
Tolerance of sexual harassment
Inflating false rape report statistics
Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
Psychologists explain that people blame victims because it’s easier to distance themselves from a traumatic experience. They would rather believe that someone caused their own misfortune because it makes the world seem a safer place. Why we choose to blame women over men is directly a result of the deeply rooted sexist and misogynistic culture in which we live.
(See https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-victim-blaming/502661/ )
Victim-blaming is a major cause for survivors of sexual assault not to come forward and report because they know they will be shamed, blamed, and not believed.
So, where do we go from here? We need to set the record straight and raise awareness about the dynamics of sexual assault. We also need to change our culture and how we are socialized to think.
First and foremost, sexual assault victims are not responsible for non-consensual kissing, touching, and/or penetration (rape). The perpetrator is. Time and again, I have heard people explain a rape allegation away by accusing the victim of lying about the incident. Researcher David Lisak and others have found that false allegations of sexual assault are a myth. Only 2% of reports are false.(See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077801210387747 )
Sexual violence is about power and control not a result of how someone is dressed or whether they exhibit “promiscuous” behavior. Additionally, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity. In many instances, alcohol and drugs are used by a perpetrator to put the targeted person in a vulnerable position. Think about Bill Cosby, for instance. It is important to remember that in many states the law states a person under the influence or alcohol and drugs cannot consent to sexual activity.
The major difference between men who rape and men who don’t rape is their attitude toward women. Men who rape believe they have a right of sexual access to women whenever they please and therefore often don’t view what they do as rape. (see National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, ncdsv.org). Motives for rape are complex and varied, and include: