by Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer
CW: Discussion of sexual assault, rape, policy brutality.
In 2019, I sat in a room at the police station and told an officer about my sexual assault. “Why didn’t you report this sooner?” he asked me. I said I was scared. He asked me why. When I couldn’t get the words out, he raised his eyebrows and moved onto another question. I knew, in that moment, that although I was a victim of a crime, I didn’t stand a chance when it came to having that fact recognized. But I should have.
Rape against women was first considered a “property crime,” meaning that the real offence was the rapist had robbed the woman’s husband or father. It was an act of theft, rather than one of violence. It took until the 1970s for it to be seen as a crime against women, and for marital rape to be recognized. Though it was progress, the system remains flawed. In 2014, a judge asked a rape victim if she had tried closing her legs. Until 2003, Philadelphia’s sex crimes division was referred to as the “lying bitch unit.” Even in my case, though one in every five women experience sexual violence, I was met with incredulity from the officer I spoke to. It didn’t matter that the percentage of false reports of sexual assault is between 2–8%. It made his job easier not to believe me.
That’s the problem right there: it is so much easier to not believe victims. People have this unquestionable belief in people they know and people in power. When a stranger accuses someone you care about of a harmful action, it’s easy to not believe the stranger. It’s hard to reckon with an allegation like this when you trust the person being accused. But when someone insists that the abuser is a “good guy,” all that says is that the abuser never harmed them — not that the abuser never harmed anyone.
It gets worse when it comes to law enforcement. We’ve been taught that the police are supposed to be the good guys. They’re supposed to keep us safe. So for people who grew up with privilege and learned to call the police if they needed help, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to believe that police are the ones doing the brutalizing. Even when it comes to the recent incident at SFU where the RCMP arrested a Black alumnus, there are people who instinctively believe that the arrest was justified. It does not matter to them how violent the arrest was. It does not matter to them that there have been countless pleas for campus security to stop calling the RCMP on students who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour. People who grew up being told that the police system is good will likely continue to believe that because they cannot handle their worldview being shifted — but reflection on this is vital.
Aside from looking past their own personal experiences, people must examine their own prejudices. Victims of sexual assault, upon speaking about it, are often hit with a barrage of victim-blaming questions, including “What were you wearing?” and “Why did you drink so much?” These questions assume that the onus is not on their abuser for deciding to cause harm in the first place. These types of preconceived notions only perpetuate the problem.
Accepting that people are not who you thought they were is a difficult thing to do. But what’s more difficult is being a victim and reckoning with people telling you, directly or indirectly, that your words mean nothing to them. That you need more than your story and statistics to prove your point, when all your abuser has to do is exist. Victims need to be believed, no matter what.