Believe women. That’s not a controversial statement, but somehow our culture has made it a polarizing phrase. Often times when people hear or read that phrase they interpret it as don’t believe men. It’s similar to how BLACK LIVES MATTER elicited a ALL LIVES MATTER response. Ironically these efforts to lift society to a greater level of inclusion, can make people feel left out. That’s kind of a head scratcher for me. Why can’t we lift the downtrodden without the rest of society balking at the idea of equality?
Both data and routine conversations with women reveal that our world is not a safe space for women to come forward. We rarely adequately punish the perpetrators. We call into question the validity of the woman’s story and we rush to the defend the credibility of the man. That is a gauntlet we ask women to run through to share their stories with us. No wonder most incidents of sexual assault or abuse go unreported. I want to take a moment and speak to one of the factors that put a barrier in front of survivors of assault. It is an important one that I believe we should spend some time wrestling with.
Last week I was faced with an interesting question about how I would want to be treated as a man if I were falsely accused of sexual misconduct by a woman. First, the fact that so many people wanted to talk about false claims in the wake of remarkably credible testimony from Dr Christine Blasey Ford, is truly maddening. However, I will speak to the question I was asked.
If I were falsely accused I would want those closest to me to support me, and believe me when I tell them the truth of what happened. I would be frustrated and angry if my name were dragged through the mud based on an unsubstantiated claim about me. I would tell my side of the story to anyone who asked me and do all that I could to clear my name. I would certainly deny all the accusations and essentially call the woman who named me as her violator a liar. That’s my answer to a specific question about a hypothetical situation. Now, to greater issue with the question and the idea it springs from.
In an ongoing effort to make America safer after 9/11, TSA began requiring passengers to remove their shoes when going through security. This was after a man tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami. Several other measures were taken in the years that followed to make traveling safer for all. I’ve never stood in a long, slow security line (I don’t have TSA pre-check) and heard anyone say “Thank God we all have to take our shoes and jackets off. I feel so much safer!” We endure the inconvenience to ourselves for the sake of everyone’s safety.
If making the world safer for women to tell their stories means more men have to deal with an increase in false accusations, I’d consider that a worthy disruption of the current status quo in an effort to make the world a better place for all. I don’t believe we would see a dramatic increase in false claims, but if we did, would that be worse than a world where women don’t feel safe to come forward? Women have had to endure the pain and trauma of being silenced after being violated. All it took was one failed attempt at blowing up a plane with a shoe bomb for us to completely change the process of airport security. We can grasp the concept that creating safer environments sometimes requires that people be subjected to processes that are uncomfortable. That’s what I believe is at the heart of BELIEVE WOMEN.
If men were to be subjected to more false accusations against their character as a result of society course correcting, that’d be a tax I think we should be less afraid to face. What’s truly ailing us in regards to sexual misconduct is bad behavior, not bad accusations. I’d say we pay that tax so that the next generation of women live in world where their claims can be taken at face value without the burden of interrogation or disbelief. I know that being falsely accused of sexual bad behavior can ruin families, careers, and reputations. I’m not making light of that. I’ve heard stories of false claims that ruined lives, but I’ve heard far more stories of people who have lived their whole lives suffering injustice in trembling silence. As I shared this with my own wife, there was tension. She as a wife to a loving husband and sister to stalwart brothers, is disturbed by the idea of having any of us falsely accused. There aren’t simple solutions. I think we as a society should wrestle with what it looks like to change the current climate more than we go back and forth about whether a new world would be scarier for men.
I know that there are women in the world who have deceitfully made accusations for personal gain or to be spiteful. I don’t think anyone is arguing that’s not the case. I would respectfully ask for that to be a separate conversation. That conversation in the midst of a movement to liberate women from being shamed for admitting they were victimized is insensitive and ill-timed. It’s like when a spouse is upset with their partner for not coming home when they said they would, and they pivot to a conversation about how hard they work to contribute to the household. The hard work is valid, and if they feel under-appreciated for the work they do, they should talk about it – after hearing the beef of their partner about not coming home when they said they would.
Showing love and compassion to people who need it often opens us up to being taken advantage of. The risk is worth it to take steps forward to becoming more just in how we treat victims of sexual misconduct.
How can you contribute to making the world safer for women to come forward?
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Good thoughts Corey. Thanks for writing. I especially agree with the line about bad behavior as opposed to bad accusations. We’ve allowed bad behavior to go protected too long.