The fallacy of the mainstream #BelieveWomen tag
#MeToo. #TimesUp. Now #BelieveWomen has gained traction on social media to call attention to the prevalence of sexual assault, bolstered by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's recent hearing regarding the allegations against Associate Justice of the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The discussion of how we prevent future cases of sexual assault and how we handle current cases is now front and center.
Given current statistics, true allegations supersede false accusations, and it is estimated that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. Therefore, it is understandable where the sentiment "believe women" comes from: women are far more likely to not report a rape than they are to falsely claim they have been raped.
In Ford's case, I find it very likely that Kavanaugh assaulted her. However, the reach of #BelieveWomen exceeds far beyond the Supreme Court nomination. Even after the votes, we still must grapple with how to deal with sexual assault.
It is unfortunate that due process is necessary. If there was a way to bring forth justice without forcing victims to relive their traumatic experiences, I like to believe such a method would have been brought to the public's attention. However, the Sixth Amendment grants all the right to a fair trial. In the case of the Scottsboro boys in 1931, "believe women" cost nine African American teenage men their lives without a chance for any of them to redeem their innocence. Of course, the boys' Sixth Amendment rights were infringed; the court was obviously racially biased. However, it demonstrates what the absence of the Sixth Amendment could lead to. Of course, the same right must be granted to victims of sexual assault, and too often, that’s not the case. For that, I will agree with the general consensus of #BelieveWomen. However, due process is still necessary, and simply hearing someone's testimony, unfortunately, is not enough.
Additionally, the name itself can appear to further reinforce the male-perpetrator-female-victim trope that many have ingrained in their heads. One could argue that this exists because sexual assault affects more females than males. This may be technically true, but we must reconsider that premise. In 2016, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) estimated that approximately 38 percent of victims of sexual violence are male. So yes, as of 2016, the proportion of females to males differ by ten percentage points. However, we cast aside over a third of the people whom we are trying to help: sexual assault victims. The message #BelieveWomen can easily be perverted into becoming an environment where male victims fear that their voices against their female perpetrators won't be heard. Consent needs to exist regardless of characteristics such as age, gender, and sexuality; gendering a societal problem that affects more than just women alienates non-female-identifying victims.
So what do I believe #BelieveWomen should be? It should not involve automatically dismissing or delegitimizing someone's personal experiences. Too often are people shamed or silenced. However, this is more of a problem involving people's mindsets than it is implementing new policies. Some suggestions on improving this dialogue would be to incorporate consent in schools' health class curricula, having more accessible resources such as hotlines and shelters, and promoting education on how to best support someone who experienced sexual assault. A trending hashtag on Twitter is a good start in capturing people's attention and initiating a conversation. However, now we must move towards continuing the dialogue to ensure justice for the victims, and to prevent assault from happening in the first place.