Allegations: Whose reputation is on the line?
Based on the recent media surge regarding allegations that Woody Allen sexually assaulted his stepdaughter Dylan Farrow, we wanted to discuss the problematic media rhetoric that sexual assault charges are often filed as a form of revenge or because of regret.
Where we’re coming from
It is important to first recognize that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 19 men will experience sexual assault at some point in their life. Most of these cases are never reported to the police, and 97% of rapists will never face any jail time. Source.
Why it’s problematic
As demonstrated above, most convictions (not even considering those cases that are determined to have insufficient evidence or are discontinued due to other reasons) don’t amount to any real jail time. There is a popular belief that accusing someone of sexual assault is more about tarnishing the (alleged) perpetrator’s reputation than seeking legal justice. In reality, the person accused of assault is rarely the one whose reputation is destroyed.
Additionally, most people are assaulted by someone they know, and that can make it very difficult to report. There is increased pressure to remain silent if the alleged perpetrator is a public figure. If you are unsure why, you can find countless articles, videos and postings written by unqualified individuals who feel they are entitled to attempt to poke holes in the story and accuse the victim of lying. Considering these examples, it should not be surprising that sexual assault survivors have an increased risk of suicide compared to the general population. If the survivor does choose to report the assault, there may be additional consequences.
As many survivors know, going through the reporting process can include having to describe a traumatic event dozens or hundreds of times (oftentimes to strangers, i.e. police officers, lawyers etc.) as well as having your sexual history examined, scrutinized and made public. Some of the more extreme cases have included:
What you can do
If a survivor confides their story in you, there are some very simple things you can do to help them. The first is to listen. Listen to as much or as little as they are willing to tell you, and don’t press them for more information. Refrain from asking them questions. Even though they may be well intended, they may come off as victim blaming (i.e. “Why did you drink so much?” “What were you wearing?”). After they confide in you, it is very important to thank them, because it took a lot of courage and trust to share their experience with you. Another way to support your friend or loved one is to offer resources. It’s important that you don’t make any of the survivor’s decisions for them; they have suffered a loss of power and control, and they can regain some of that power by making their own decisions on how to handle the situation. However, you can be there for them, and let them know of the options available. The last thing you can do is respect their privacy by not sharing their story with anyone else. It is their story to tell, not yours. All of these things can help you become a much-needed ally to survivors.
With all of this being said, we would also like to note that the level of support offered by each administration, police department and community is different and we do not want to discourage anyone from reporting if they feel that is the best avenue of healing for them to pursue.
For more information on resources or if you have any questions, please reach out to Aly at email@example.com.
Written by our very own peer facilitators, Maja and Hannah.