Why sexual assault victims face double standards

Maddy Gleason and Irie Senter

Recently, sexual assault has received increased attention in the media.  Major public figures accused of sexual assault dominate the news, and it’s concerning to find that so many victims have experienced some form of assault by a sexual predator.

American culture often ridicules survivors for not coming forward sooner, but when those who choose to confront their abuser do go public, people don’t seem to realize the physical and emotional toll it requires to take this action. Although due process is necessary to ensure just persecution, rape culture often uses the notion of  ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to directly pass blame onto the victim instead of the perpetrator.

It completely depends on the person, but if something this traumatic occurs, many will wait a month, a year, or more to come out and take action. There are numerous reasons for this delay -sexual assault survivors may feel afraid of retaliation from their attacker, workplace, or family, unsure of the type of legal action they should take, or simply just not emotionally ready to confront their trauma. No matter the time it takes to report it, all victims affected by this heinous crime have incredible strength.

Most victims of sexual assault face years of emotional distress regarding their decision to come forward. Often, it’s difficult to make that decision, because about 85% of the time, the victim has been at least acquainted with their attacker.

The fear associated with coming forward is a psychological nightmare no man or woman should have to go through, so the fact is, when a victim does come forward, it is a huge step for that individual and dismantling the rape culture in America.

For example, the women who spoke against serial abuser and gymnastics coach Larry Nassar in early 2018 were intimidated by Nassar’s power as an incredibly famous coach and someone they had worked closely with in the past. Some reported directly as they were abused and had to keep pushing for nearly 12 years because no one would believe a group of teenage girls over an esteemed gymnastics coach. Others who had been abused by Nassar viewed their fellow victims’ treatment and decided to stay silent as a way of preserving their careers and reputations.

An abuser with power is one of the main barriers for victims when they are looking to come forward and share their story. People with influence are inherently more likely both to be sexual predators and get away with it; their authority is what places them in the position to take advantage of others, and their sway keeps the abused silent (or coerced into voicelessness).  It is why people like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford may wait years to accuse a predator of sexual assault — perceived power, wealth, and influence (a teenage Brett Kavanaugh possessed all of these things) ares a threatening combination. Compounding their fear is the scrutiny and ridicule that they will probably face from the public, and unfortunately sometimes friends and family, which leads to more emotional damage.

The corruption in America’s legal system needs to be addressed, and although any crime committed by a public figure should have consequences, sexual and domestic abuse should be especially considered criminal because of the inherent violation and alienation of the human body. When people in power have the ability to sexually assault someone and then get away with it, it not only shows the victim that justice is impossible but also creates a precedent that other predators will be safe from consequences and thus perpetuates the cycle.

The issue society brings to the table is the fact that it earnestly encourages victims to come forward, and pretends to care enough to the point that the attacker will be investigated, if not prosecuted, upon accusation.

What most people don’t realize is the irony behind this situation. Parents often tell their children to tell them if anything happens, friends offer to protect you, and the community preaches acceptance and anti-assault campaigns. But the harsh reality is that when a case of rape or assault does come out, few care enough to pursue what they claim to fight for. Instead, especially in cases that involve high profile attackers, blame is initially placed on the victim who is accused of lying or seeking attention.

Though many groups are in support of victims, the whole community should be a support system for anyone who even claims they were assaulted. It is possible to respect due process while also supporting the victims of a savage crime. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t a controversial subject. It’s not difficult to give someone who is in pain the benefit of the doubt, and it’s certainly not controversial to provide comfort to someone in need. It is unacceptable to live in a society that strives to protect the guilty, yet scorns the innocent.