Common Criticisms and Defences of Sexual Assault
By Shola Lee and Roberta Rhyse
Society has never been warier of political correctness than it is today; with this wariness comes backlash and criticism aimed toward the #MeToo movement and feminism more generally.
From harmless comments made by celebrities like Henry Cavil, or that one friend whose humour is a little too near the mark, to the outright defence of Brett Kavanaugh; comments and criticisms undoubtedly have an impact on our judicial system. And while, on the surface, feminism may seem more popular than ever, our society and its institutions remain bound by a patriarchal framework that excuses such behaviour.
To demonstrate how commonplace this mentality is, we asked friends, colleagues and readers to send in the most common criticisms and defences of sexual harassment they have heard.
[Several of the phrases, or similar, have been used in infamous court and committee hearings.]
1. ‘An accusation can ruin his life’
So, what about hers? When a statement like this is made, we fail to acknowledge the fact that the victim’s life has already been ruined. By stating this, we immediately prioritise the aggressor’s life before the victim’s: we prioritise the potential achievments of the accused, over those of the victim.
2. ‘He doesn’t deserve all that’
Neither does she. ‘All that’ often refers to the impact an investigation has on the accused. So he does not ~ deserve ~ the intense grilling from detectives or probe into his life, but she does?
3. ‘He was just a teenager’
And more than likely so was she. Why is this point made? Likely because they may be similar in age but not in gender: there is no female equivalent for ‘boys will be boys.’
4. ‘He should not go to prison for twenty minutes of action’
This statement by the father of convicted sex offender Brock Turner completely disregards the severity of the sexual assault, and it shows the inconsistency in how sexual assault cases are tried: we have to ask, would any other assault be measure by a timeframe? Regardless of whether the assault was one minute or twenty: it was assault.
To quote Emily Dickinson: ‘One need not be a Chamber—to be Haunted—’ and to say that a sexual assault is just ‘twenty minutes of action’ is dismissing the victim's lifelong torment.
5. ‘Well, was she drinking?’
Intoxication has long been used as a get-out-of-jail-free card in sexual assault cases. The consumption of alcohol can be used to discredit the victim, prosecutors suggesting they cannot clearly remember the assault or whether they consented. Why is this? Intoxicated victims are not blamed for a drink-driving crash- it is the driver at fault- whether they are drunk or not.
6. ‘What about the guys who are falsely accused’ and ‘this is a witch-hunt’
If this is a defence, then why are we not considering the victims who are caught up in this witch hunt? Those like Amber Wyatt who are branded liars and called disgusting names for years after their rape.
As with any other crime, we need to protect victims, unless proven otherwise. The key word being unless, not until. But right now, victims are being treated as if they are guilty and fraudulent and it needs to stop. Time is up.
Dr Christine Blasey Ford should be admired for her courage and bravery, for standing in front of an entire court and sharing what is likely the rawest and most traumatic experience she has ever endured.
We believe Dr Christine Blasey Ford, we believe Amber Wyatt and every other person who has been a victim of sexual assault/harassment.
This article was inspired by a tweet from @emrazz that reads:
‘Brock Turners grow up to be Brett Kavanaugh’s who make the rules for Brock Turners’
[We acknowledge that this article is limited to male on female violence and harassment, however, there will be articles published shortly centred around women on male violence and same-sex violence/harassment.]