Trigger Warning: This article discusses the sensitive topic of sexual violence in our society.
Since Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator, allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced about other prominent figures in our society, from politicians to businessmen and media officials. This past week, Fox News host Sean Hannity defended his interview with Roy Moore, a Republican Senate candidate who has been accused of initiating sexual encounters with teenage girls, including a then-14-year-old, by stating, “I don’t rush to judgment… I’m never going to apologize for not rushing to judgment. The issue of presumption of innocence is important to all of us.”
However, as the general public is not part of the American judiciary system, it is appropriate for us to believe and support those who come forward with stories of sexual violence and misconduct. In these circumstances, our ideal of innocent until proven guilty silences survivors deserving of our sympathy.
A study recently determined that college students believe 50 percent of rape reports are false while in actuality the rate of false reports of rape is 2 to 8 percent, consistent with that of other crimes. Reporting sexual abuse is challenging for survivors for many reasons, and this societal skepticism only adds to the problem; in the United States, it is believed 66 percent of sexual violence goes unreported. Validating survivors who come forward with our acceptance is important in order to end sexual violence. While many often seek to portray supporting victims as a gendered issue, men benefit along with women when survivors are taken seriously, as men are 82,000 times more likely to be raped themselves than be falsely accused.
It can be jolting when someone you admire is accused of sexual assault. Sarah Silverman, an American comedian, addressed this feeling on her show “I Love You, America” as she responded to discovering her longtime friend Louis C.K. is a sexual predator. During her monologue she said, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it and also sad because he’s my friend.” I personally was shocked this past Thursday when pictures surfaced of Senator Al Franken grabbing a colleague’s breasts while she was sleeping. However, I echo Silverman’s sentiment, “It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions no matter who they are.” Americans need to realize not all predators drive white vans; they are found in every field and may be highly admired. We must recognize our feelings of bewilderment and betrayal are not comparable to what predators’ victims experience.
During an MTV interview promoting DC’s Justice League, Ben Affleck responded to a question about Supergirl teamed up with Justice League with, “You following the news at all?” The solution to stemming allegations of sexual misconduct in our society is not to limit male and female interactions as assailants like Kevin Spacey prey on those of their same sex. Instead, individuals can guarantee their interactions are respectful by being cognizant of their peers’ feelings. Being more aware of ourselves and others will also allow us to better identify and stop predatory behavior.
As the members of the general public, we are not bound like judges, investigators or attorneys to the ideal of “innocent until proven guilty.” This allows us to scaffold survivors who come forward and share their stories as reporting sexual assault is traumatic. If a sexual assault case goes to trial, the burden of proof does fall on the survivor, and anyone who feels falsely accused can sue for defamation of character. Our justice system will continue to work successfully even if the American public begins to believe victims instead of blaming them as it was designed to take our humanity into account.