#IBelieveHer: The Radical and Transformative Beauty of a Simple Statement

This post discusses rape, abuse and violence against women (cis, black, transgender) and children. I reference my own experiences as well as material which some people may find triggering, so please take care of yourself. If you have never disclosed, either by choice or by circumstance, then know that I believe you.  

One such misplaced belief is that false allegations of rape and domestic violence are rife. – Keir Starmer, March 2013

In March 2013 the CPS released a report which laid bare the reality about so called false rape and domestic violence accusations. It is a report that should be read carefully, and not simply because the figures make strikingly clear how rare false reporting is.

Previous studies had also shown the rarity of false reporting, but the CPS report mattered because it illuminated something which gets lost in the less than nuanced conversations demanded by those who want our attention on the infrequent occasions when someone reports something which didn’t happen, rather than on the all too numerous women and children who are beaten, raped and killed week in and week out – most often by men they know.

What it highlighted was the vulnerability of those who accuse – it illustrates that there is neither any maliciousness, nor vindictiveness, (as some men would have us believe (TW/CN) ): only powerless people in difficult situations who may, nevertheless, find themselves on the receiving end of an unreasonable and disproportionate prosecutorial system. Whatever else is said or written about Eleanor de Freitas in the wake of her death, both her family and the investigating detectives are certain that the prosecution which pre-empted her suicide was utterly wrong, and her fragile mental health made her vulnerable in ways too many failed to comprehend.

For black women, transgender women and transgender women who are black and of colour, the situation becomes more complex. Racism and transphobia as well misogyny and sexism, mean they are pushed still further outside of our anyway unwelcoming society: their bodies – labelled unacceptable by their skin colour and/or their gender presentation – find a society not only unwilling to believe them, but willing (even eager) to discard them altogether. Ce-Ce MacDonald, Marissa Alexander and Janay Rice are women at the appalling tip of a violent iceberg. Their humanity is not simply ignored: it is not recognised at all.

It is a paradox that creates a shameful isolation – women are raped, abused and beaten daily and yet any of us, either by instinct or experience, know that if we speak up the first reaction from too many people will be disbelief and primarily a concern for the accused; concern for the ‘stigma’ of living with a ‘false’ accusation. The first instinct of society is not to believe the woman or child. Ask any of the children – or their parents – who tried to report what was going on in Rotherham, what labels were laid on the girls, what disbelief was endured before any truth finally came to light. The hand wringing which followed will be repeated again because no lesson is being learned of any value.

The truth is this: that even thought there are endless studies, and reams of statistics, which show that women and children are telling the truth, that ‘false reporting’ is not all common and even more rarely done out of maliciousness, society prefers instead to be concerned for the powerful, and not the powerless.

Women are, therefore, not only untrustworthy in societies eyes: we must also bear the blame for the physical and sexual violence endured. Constantly the message is writ large: if we did not exist, neither would these issues. We are told every day: rape exists because we do.

Against this backdrop of disbelief and victim blaming must come liberation and rebellion, and transformation from one state to another – from the web like trap of being both the blamed and the un-believed, making a simple statement such as #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveYou can be a truly radical act.

I know this: twenty or more years after I was raped by a man who made sure I would be treated with suspicion and disbelief if I were ever to speak up, those words were like oil on my turbulent heart. After nearly of two years of sexual violence, of gaslighting, of rape – hearing those words years later opened up a pathway to real healing. Sure, I’d had counselling: I had learned to ‘live’ with what had happened. I had recovered enough to move forward. But I had no access to a community where I could feel safe when talking about it.

Because that’s the difference: whilst those words are not a panacea, those words mean that there is a community of people – even in this disbelieving and victim blaming society – where I can say: I was raped; and there will be no finger pointing, no shaming, no dubious questioning from people unwilling to confront the ugly truths of life.

Everyone who has ever been abused and raped needs this: until we no longer require radical acts to provide community and safety; until we live in a world where the vulnerable are believed and supported; until we understand that the stigma of being raped and not being believed is far more damaging than being accused; until we raise our sons not to rape, not to demand or feel entitled to demand, and to recognise the humanity of all women; until racism, sexism, transphobia and misogyny dies – until then, first, last and always:

I believe you.