What if she is lying? What if she had invented everything to get revenge? The instant it comes to sexual assault, the myth that victims are lying or that they are to blame surfaces.
Contrary to what many believe, the rate of false complaints about sexual assault is not higher than for other types of crimes. Statistics on the subject suggest a rate between 2 and 4%. So how to explain the number of people who automatically assume that the victim is lying?
Not being taken seriously can have consequences as serious as the aggression itself. Let me explain…
According to Canadian statistics, 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. This means approximately 460,000 sexual assaults happen every year in Canada. Relatively few sexual assaults are reported. According to statistic, only 6% incidents are actually reported to the police. Only 1 to 2% if it’s a date rape situation, because victims believe they will be blamed for the crime. Out of these, only a tiny portion (5 to 10%) of sexual assault cases are prosecuted and only 1% of these cases will result in a conviction. Most aggressors walk free.
53% of survivors reported in a survey that they didn’t report their rape because they were not confident in the police. 2 out of 3 said that they were not confident in the criminal justice system in general. This means the majority of women in Canada feel reporting would do little good. Do you think that’s normal? Do you think that’s right?
Out of does who did come forward 71% said they had a negative experience. Many said that the police made them feel like they weren’t credible.
What can we do to make sure that victims have confidence in a system that believes so rarely and fail them so regularly? While much progress has been made, although the topic is becoming increasingly less taboo, there is clearly much work to be done to better support victims.
In principle, investigators who receive a sexual assault victim must start from the premise that she is telling the truth, but we know that it’s often the contrary. Victim blaming is so ingrained into our society that it is corrupting the justice system.
Sexual assault is also the only crime where we tend to blame the victim rather than the aggressor. The cause of sexual assault isn’t sexy clothes, flirting, alcohol, going to a bar, walking home alone, it’s sexual perpetrators. Sexual assault isn’t about sex, it’s about power. It’s about hurting someone and the trill of getting away with it.
Unfortunately, thing being as they are, if you come forward, chances are even people you care about will suggest that you lied or exaggerated. They will point out what you could have done to stop it. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Dealing with disbelief and blaming at the same time as you are dealing with trauma is overwhelming.
The problem with victim blaming is that victims start believing that they deserved it. They feel powerless, or ashamed, or they simply blame themselves. So most keep the crime quiet and never speak up about it.
Most importantly is that this type of crime will only get worst as perpetrators get more and more comfortable with the knowledge that the odds of having no or little consequences are on their side.
Sexual violence in Canada has reached epidemic proportion and we have to treat it as such. It starts with proper training for policemen, ambulance staff and doctors on how to deal with sexual assault crimes. It also means a review of our justice system is necessary. Only when we treat crime seriously can it be reduced.