The Jian Ghomeshi scandal led to a lot of women coming forward and asserting that he abused them, and this outpouring of divulgence has prompted other women, not associated with Ghomeshi, to open up about their abuse. The #BeenRapedNeverReported trend was started by Antonia Zerbisias of the Toronto Star and her friend, to empower women who have chosen not to report a crime against them.
Another very different response to the Ghomeshi confessions has been blame—not entirely for Ghomeshi, but for the women who didn’t come forward about their abuse sooner.
Clearly, based on how rapidly and globally the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag has spread—with 41,549 total tweets between October 29 and November 3—experiencing violence, abuse, or assault and not reporting it is common. With it being so common, it can’t be unmotivated or insignificant. A report on abuse of older adults lists reasons like “fear of more abuse … a belief that they are getting what they deserve … a belief that police or social services cannot help them … [and] a belief that they cannot prove the abuse is happening.”
LifeCentre.uk.com also notes that “For many people [not reporting] is a good decision and enables them to concentrate on their own healing and ability to rebuild life positively.”
In addition, while 46 out of 100 rapes get reported to the police, only “12 lead to an arrest, nine get prosecuted … three [lead to] even a single day in prison,” according to Rainn.org. Of course the justice system can be complicated, and is set-up to be fair and just to all parties, which in part explains the relatively low rate of convicted rapists; there has to be enough evidence to convict someone of a crime. It’s not too surprising though that some abuse survivors do not want to put themselves through such an emotional rigmarole, when it might not result in any substantive consequences.
It’s also common to blame the victims, or to assume the accused is actually a victim of malignity. I understand the value of innocent until proven guilty and maintaining justice in the courts; in the social realm though, it’s more complicated when an abuser is given the benefit of the doubt over the abuse survivor’s word, and we lend weight to the rate of false rape accusations. Even generous statistics which assert that 10 per cent of rape allegations are false (the statistics range from two to 10 per cent, and are difficult to pin down), so many more allegations of rape and abuse are all too real.
Our response to abuse victims coming forward is problematic enough, but this is compounded by our response when they don’t come forward. Yes, ideally we would catch criminals and lock ‘em up, so they were unable to commit crimes again, and yes, that is largely dependent on people coming forward with allegations. Again though, there are so many reasons why a victim might not step forward right away, if ever. The process of coming forward about abuse is emotional and difficult, and often fraught with accusations of falsification, so I don’t think we can blame anyone for not opening up about their abuse. When we—as a society that traditionally blames and discredits survivors of abuse, assuming their dishonesty—turn around and blame them for not stepping forward “sooner,” we create a vicious n0-win situation for survivors of abuse.
It can be difficult to navigate moral issues such as this, which might not lend themselves to substantial evidence outside of testimony, and it can consequently be tempting to side with the accused. While it is important to maintain innocent-until-proven-guilty in the justice system, we as a social collective can listen to several women stepping forward about their abuse and say, “Hey, maybe they’re telling the truth.” That doesn’t mean then going wild and pursuing vigilante justice—justice is still a matter for the courts. Simply saying “I believe you” to an abuse survivor can be meaningful and powerful, extending sympathy to a person in need.