Women don’t report sexual assault and domestic violence because we know men in power, and the women who love them, won’t believe us. But let’s talk about why people don’t believe women. Besides sexism and straight up magical thinking, that is.
Here’s how it goes. A woman is attacked, she seeks help. She tells friends and family, her doctor, maybe the police. At this point, supporters of your attacker, always described “fundamentally decent man who made a mistake,” start pressuring you.
They beg you, Don’t go to the police, let’s work things out. “You don’t want to ruin a good man’s life over a mistake.” Faced with bribes, threats, other coercion, in your fragile emotional state, you might be convinced it’s best to be quiet and go away. (The Rolling Stones article rang true because most of us have those friends who don’t want to make waves with powerful people.)
Or you might go to the police anyway, where they don’t believe you, and everyone again urges you to drop the charges. It’s better for everyone this way, they say. The climb looks too steep, so you agree.
Or you press on. Maybe you get a conviction. Usually because he pleads to a lesser, more socially acceptable charge. Justice is served. Life goes on.
But it’s not over. Down the road, someday, always, they come at you again. “He’s changed, he’s learned his lesson, please allow him to clear his name and move on.”
And you’ve moved on, healed, even. The memory hasn’t faded, exactly, but the edge has dulled. They call you petty, bitter, vindictive. They say you live in the past and you need to let it go.
And you think maybe they’re right. It’s over, and if you can’t bring yourself to forgive, maybe there’s something wrong with you. So you give in.
Now let’s recap. At three different points we are pressured to LIE for our attacker. And under intense pressure, many of us do.
But that makes us liars. And people say, She lied about one or the other, so I don’t know what to believe. That’s their hedge.
And because so many women do change their stories, men are raised to think women are liars. And to think rape charges stem from those lies, or at best an innocent misunderstanding.
So they identify with our attackers. If he’s falsely accused, due to a miscommunication or a lie, it could happen to them too!
But the lies, the recantations, are coerced. And that coercion is all part of the cycle of abuse. We’re forced to rewrite our own story because the world thinks our attacker deserves better than he got.
After all, he’s a fundamentally good man who made a mistake.