Should You Always Believe the Victim?

By Chidinma Okere on Sun, 19/04/2020 - 02:40

Always Believe the Victim is a catchphrase used during sexual abuse and inappropriateness cases to say that when a victim speaks up, they should be listened to, provided a safe space, and the matter investigated. 

What it aims to achieve is to remove the burden of shame that many victims/survivors of sexual misconduct face when they speak up. For many victims, pain takes the form of self-blame even when it was not exactly in their power to control the outcome of events. They wish they could go back in time and undo something. This mental torture is one of the things that stops victims from speaking up. Another reason is all of the questions they will be subjected to if they report.

“What were you wearing? Why were you alone with them in the first? Were you being seductive? You enjoyed it, if not, why are you just talking, etc are some of the questions victims have to deal with.

Scrutiny and attention are plied on them, much of it unsympathetic while the abuser relaxes and carries on with his/her life as usual. This situation is made worse when the perpetrator is a person of high social standing. The victim bears both societal scrutiny and the burden of proving her abuser’s guilt.

To give victims a better chance of speaking up, psychologists and rape centers recommend that victims are believed first. Fair Haven, a response center, in its article 21 Things Not to Say to a Victim of Sexual Assault recommends that when talking to a survivor, their experience should not be downplayed or made light of. Don’t ask questions like “are you sure this happened” or “That was so long ago, why can’t you just get over it?”

As helpful as “always believe the victim” has been, a concern is the problem of false accusations and how they impact on genuine cases.

Agreed, there are more unreported sexual assault and rape cases than there are fake reports but for a matter that already is difficult to prove, every fake report does more harm than can be measured.

A better approach may be to “always believe the victim but carry out proper investigation before declaring the accused guilty or not guilty”. Apparently longer but it really may be a better way to prevent unscrupulous elements from hijacking the movement and making it more difficult for survivors, help centers, law enforcement and the society at large.

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