Why are women still not believed in rape cases?
A year on from #Metoo, the new #Whyididn’treport movement proves we still have a long way to go, says Victoria Spratt
US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh currently stands accused of sexual assault by not one, not two, not three, but four women. He denies all of the allegations. One of them – Professor Christine Blasey Ford – gave her testimony to a Senate panel. Last week she said the assault ‘drastically altered my life’.
Donald Trump has, of course, weighed in. ‘I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,’ he tweeted.
In doing so, the President implicitly condoned all of the rape myths and misinformation that undermine women’s credibility. He confirmed what many people think privately – that women would report rape if it actually happened, if they were upset enough, if it mattered to them enough, if it had been bad enough.
It’s prompted women’s anger and outrage to fly around on the internet, razor-sharp and coming together through a hashtag: #Whyididn’treport. The tweets are upsetting to read, so many saying the same thing, over and over again: ‘I didn’t know if I would be believed’.
The statistics back us up: one in five women in England and Wales has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. The very word ‘rape’ conjures up film noir images of a stranger attacking a woman in a dark alleyway, but we know the majority of rapes are committed by someone familiar and, often, occur at home. In the UK, the perpetrator was a stranger in only 10% of rape and serious sexual assault cases. Yet the latest figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that prosecutions for rape have dropped by 23% over the last year. The CPS took on fewer rape cases for the fourth year in a row, partly because fewer cases were referred by police.
Conversations about power and assault erupted with #Metoo. And now, they keep coming. Increasingly, we find we are not bound together by shame and silence but by the stories we have in common about the way we were mistreated. We are thinking back to our own experiences, the experiences of our friends – and wondering about the experiences of our mothers and grandmothers. We’re asking ourselves, what would I do if I was in Professor Ford’s position? If the man who assaulted me was about to become one of the most powerful people in my country?
We must keep them going because for every #Whyididn’treport story, there will be a woman who stays silent because she fears she might not be believed if she speaks out.