I want to follow up on this post a bit. Trigger warnings again. This post discusses rape and sexual assault. It also discusses auto theft, for what it’s worth. It possibly takes others’ experiences and uses them to make a point, but I do feel that the point needs to be made. These are not my burdens, though, and never will be.
The first thing I want to address, for me, is that some people didn’t catch that it was satire. Even those that did catch it usually needed to get through a few paragraphs before it became obvious. Even people who are very close to me weren’t immediately aware that I was not drawing an actual equivalency between rape and accusations of rape. It’s a testament to how deeply rape culture and misogyny run that even people who know and love me couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t suddenly revealing a previously unknown and disgusting attitude until they got to the end of that post. A friend likened it to A Modest Proposal, saying that eating babies is also an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but tellingly no one ever believed for a second that Swift was actually proposing cannibalism. We live in a world wherein the idea that someone could suddenly reveal a rape apologist living in their head is far from absurd. And those close-to-me people who read this generally had a sick-to-their-stomach feeling that I think I didn’t need to put them through to make my point.
And here is my point: as far as I can see, we can have two scenarios when someone is accused of sexual assault or rape:
- We can have a strong presumption of innocence, as we do now, and we can effectively protect abusers and rapists at the expense of their victims, with the trade-off that very few people will be negatively impacted by false accusations
- We can have a strong presumption of guilt, and in return protect victims over their abusers, but at the same time run the risk of persecuting some number of innocent people.
When this comes up, especially when I talk about my belief that, at least socially if not legally, we ought to operate under scenario number 2, someone nearly always claims that everyone is “innocent until proven guilty” and thereby claims that we should discard these accusations without absolute proof. But we don’t actually operate that way, certainly not socially and generally not even legally. The actual legal burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt; I put it to you that if you know two people had sexual contact, and one says that contact was non-consensual, it is unreasonable to doubt.
If I call the police and tell them that someone has stolen my car, and they find that person with my car, I am not required to prove that I didn’t lend it to them. I’m not required to prove that I don’t have a history of lending my car out, nor that I haven’t let that person drive my car in the past. And yet these are all things that are commonly required of victims of sexual assault and rape, which are much more serious than auto theft, lest anyone think I mean to draw an equivalence here.
Even if the cops couldn’t prove that someone stole my car, my friends wouldn’t take sides in the process. No one would shun me for having my car stolen. None of my friends and family would continue to associate with the car thief. And this is all true even if I did give the car to the person I’ve accused. But of course, faking a car theft is an incredibly rare event and so we quite reasonably assume that, absent other evidence, a theft accusation is true.
This is what we ought to be doing with accusations of sexual assault, which I put to you are almost certainly just as often true. I don’t, nor could I, cite statistics for you, given the current difficulty in reporting and prosecuting these crimes and the commensurate low report rate. However, given that actually being assaulted is far worse than being accused of assault, we should be operating in a way that discourages assault over discouraging accusations regardless of the relative rates.
We are instead, as a society (perhaps not you and I, dear reader, who are of course enlightened and caring beings) protecting the criminals over the concerns of their victims. We require a much higher bar for a victim of rape or sexual assault. We put them through a great ordeal if they come forward, and then we ask them to prove for certain that a thing happened that is almost unprovable and which almost certainly actually happened.
There’s obviously a threshold for this. I’m not arguing that if someone says to you “Bill Clinton raped me” and you have no reason to believe that they’ve even met Bill Clinton, you should take that super seriously. But if someone says “X did Y to me without my consent” then so long as you have reason to believe that X actually did Y, requiring someone to prove the “without my consent” part is completely unreasonable and not something that we ask of victims of any crime that is not sexually violent in nature. Naturally, if X can prove consent, then we can let X off the hook, much the way that if I sell someone my car they’d better get the title from me, or else trust the hell out of me that I’m not going to report it stolen.
And, as indicated in A Nightmare Scenario, this would shift the burden of care. Men, who benefit from the current paradigm, would suddenly have to have some care with whom they had sexual encounters. We’d have to vet those people more carefully. We’d have to trust the people we’re sleeping with, and not just want them. If we didn’t, we’d be taking our reputation and potentially a chunk of our lives into our hands, each and every time. Just the way women who sleep with men do now, just the way men who sleep with men do now, just the way that trans folk who sleep with cis men must, just the way that people of color who sleep with white people do now, just the way that anyone who is drawn to someone more privileged than they are must do. The current effective assumption that all accusations of rape are lies without overwhelming proof magnifies and exacerbates a difference of power that doesn’t need any help.
And make no mistake: when you silence victims, you are assuming that they are lying. When you block them from making “criminal accusations”, the way the Fetlife admins do, you are treating all accusations as lies. When you ask a victim to be absolutely sure that they didn’t consent, you are treating them as liars. When we, this society, treat rape and sexual assault as if they required 100% proof, as if without video tape or clear signs of violence they can’t be prosecuted, things we do with no other crime, we are treating victims as liars.
The BDSM/fetish community has a serious problem with this, and its problem sparked this discussion, but it’s one which mirrors the superculture’s obsession with protecting men from harmful accusations of sexual assault. Yes, if we were to make these assumptions, we would get laid less. The buzz would be harshed. That happy invulnerability, that ability to have sex with no consideration of the consequences, that would be dented. Straight men would get laid less. I would get laid less. That is not a reasonable objection. It is not worth protecting rapists over their victims in order to make sex easier.