On Belief

9 09 2006

The following is an excerpt from a booklet titled “Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault” which was prepared through a collaborative effort by UBUNTU and Men Against Rape Culture (MARC).

Being believed is reportedly the #1 factor in a healthy recovery for a survivor of sexual assault. In a strong majority of cases, the rapist will not believe the survivor, the hospital won’t believe them, the police won’t believe them, and their friends and family won’t believe them. You have to.

Even with a believing supporter, many survivors spend their lifetimes struggling with themselves about what they might have done to prevent what someone else did to them. It is your job to assure them that they did whatever they needed to do to survive. Our culture will not affirm this, and in doing so, will not believe them.

For a woman who is assaulted, she is subjected to the sexist notions that our society has about women and sexuality. If a woman is sexually active, then she is a “slut.” If people continue to see rape as sex, then survivors will subsequently be branded as “sluts.” You’ve heard it before. “She deserves what she got.” “What was she in his room for anyway? She must’ve wanted it.” “What was she expecting, going out dressed like that?” There is nothing that a woman can do that would justify a man raping her.

This deserves repeating: there is nothing that a woman, man, trans person, or child could do that would justify someone raping them.

Because of racist stereotypes, women of color are often subjected to this dynamic in a particularly profound way. The bodies of women of color are seen as exotic, inherently sexual, and even dangerous territories that must be controlled. When men rape women of color, the “she must’ve wanted it” stories reverberate loudly, even within communities of color (in fact, most rapes happen within racial groups, not across them). This must be challenged.

For a man who is assaulted, he is subjected to the sexist and homophobic notions that our society has about men and sexuality. Since a man is always supposed to be dominant, a man who is raped must not be a “real” man. His pain is something to be ashamed of, because he will be branded “gay” or “feminine,” and our culture tells us that both of these identities are unacceptable for men. Men who survive rapes in prison deal with this plus our society’s perspective that he has “gotten what he deserved.” All of this will contribute to his silence

Our homophobic culture teaches straight men to hate being confronted with the sexuality of gay/bi/queer men because it triggers their own fears that they themselves are gay or not “real” men. These fears lead to the homophobic rape of gay/bi/queer men and women and the transphobic rape of people who are discovered to be trans and/or are assumed to be gay/bi/queer because they aren’t easily categorized as “men” or “women.” Rape is rape, and its survivors must be believed in and supported. Trans survivors are often confronted with a double burden of proof when reporting a sexual assault. Not only do they have to prove what happened, but who they say they are. Legal documents often don’t reflect a trans person’s preferred name or gender. This leads to more silence and vulnerability when dealing with police, hospitals, and support agencies. Never question a trans survivor’s gender identity.

Because of the homophobia mentioned above, there is a great deal of silence about sexual assault that occurs within LGBTQ communities. Like communities of color, these communities are under assault from outside at all times.

LGBTQ people, people of color, and especially LGBTQ people of color who speak out may be further silenced by pressure from inside their own communities, in order to keep from “airing dirty laundry” or protecting one another from outside threats. Both the external and internal pressures that create this silence and disbelief must be challenged. There is also a great deal of cultural myth built up around the false reporting of sexual assault and rape.

Historically, and currently, false reporting was/is used as a racist tactic to justify the lynching of men of color (especially Black men) throughout the U.S. We must study, understand, and take seriously this phenomenon. However, according to most law enforcement agencies today, the percentage of false reports of rape either compares to, or is less than, the percentages for all other crimes. This myth is a tactic to further silence women (especially women of color), gay/bi/queer men, trans people, and all other survivors.

Your belief in a survivor is essential.”

About Men Against Rape Culture: Men Against Rape Culture (MARC) is a multi-racial, anti-racist organization of men in Durham, NC, committed to ending the epidemic of male violence by attacking it at its roots. We educate, organize, create, and live in ways that seek to offer alternatives to a culture that privileges some, oppresses many, and limits the choices for all of us. MARC can be contacted at (919) 683-2301, TriangleMensGroup@yahoogroups.com, or online at http://www.marcnc.blogspot.com

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