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Disbelief Is Rape Culture's Strongest Ally

11/11/2014 05:36 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
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Before she said a single word of her own on the matter, Dylan (Malone) Farrow had already been damned by documentarian Robert Weide. "Why does adult Malone say it happened? Because she obviously believes it did."

Weide's sycophantic defense of Woody Allen didn't entertain the possibility that the famed film director might have sexually assaulted his adopted daughter; it dismissed it altogether by suggesting that what Dylan believes is a delusion, implanted by her vindictive mother.

His proposed scenario is less likely and less frequent than sexual assault, and despite a takedown of Weide's claims, but his version of events was convenient for fans of Allen's movies. They wouldn't have to feel complicit in his sins each time they watched one of his films. Weide's piece gave them the go-ahead to maintain the status quo in guilt-free comfort.

I'm not saying I know for sure that Allen abused his adopted daughter; I'm saying it never occurred to me to assume Dylan would lie, least of all to herself.

More than anything, it seems people simply don't want to entertain the notion that a beloved public figure is capable of doing the worst possible thing to a helpless child, so it suits them more to believe in the somewhat lesser evil of a planted falsehood.

#TeamJian

In much the same way, those on #TeamJian were eager to accept the narrative of a scapegoated hero. Though he admitted to his penchant for BDSM in his infamous Facebook post, Jian Ghomeshi effectively portrayed the CBC as a bunch of prudes, and he condemned the upcoming story on the matter by reducing the journalist behind it as a "freelancer," or, put differently, a reporter who doesn't have a steady job with a reputed media outlet. Most importantly, he attempted to downplay the accusations by calling the source a "jilted ex-girlfriend." For a good 24 hours, his tactic worked.

What Ghomeshi and everyone on #TeamJian didn't expect was that nine alleged victims would come forward with their stories of non-consensual physical and sexual assault. Only when it became a matter of "he said/they all said" did that disbelief turn into a "maybe he did."

Regardless of hindsight, let's not forget how quickly so many jumped to "no, he couldn't have."

#StreetHarassment

Recently, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post both in English and in French about the constant harassment I face while walking on the street, simply because I'm alone and female. The comments -- many of which were written by men -- were none too shy to refute my experience by suggesting I was paranoid. The women who responded often did so in private, sharing their similar experiences and their coping mechanisms.

Those articles were written shortly before the now-viral street harassment video came out. Though I agree with everyone who criticized the production's rampant race problem (incidentally, 95 per cent of my harassers are white), the video nevertheless exposed the epidemic that my commenters were so keen to brush off.

#BeenRapedNeverReported

Female or male, victims of sexual assault face a host of problems in the wake of such a horrific thing happening to them. Namely, getting anyone to believe that something that horrific happened to them.

What #BeenRapedNeverReported continues to brazenly bring to light is that reporting a sexual assault to the authorities is not always the best option available. In some of the stories men and women shared, people recounted how they'd tried reporting an incident a first time, and when the police dismissed their claims, they simply didn't bother going back when it happened again.

There's even a checklist of questions you can ask a victim to cloak your incredulity. What were you wearing? What were you doing in that neighbourhood, anyway? Are you a sex worker? Did you look like a sex worker? Did you have anything to drink? Were you alone? Why were you on a date with this person? But he's famous, why would he do that?

You don't need courage just to report a sexual assault; you'll especially need it to withstand all the levels of doubt that will conspire to discredit you, from your loved ones, to your friends, your colleagues, your superiors, the authorities, the lawyers, the judge, and a justice system that was designed to presume that the accuser is lying and that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

#RapeCulture

Since the term "rape culture" was introduced to the discourse, one of the biggest challenges has been to convince people that it even exists.

It's not the only instance where whole demographics resist a narrative of oppression. We see it when Bill O'Reilly rejects the concept of white privilege. We saw it in Ferguson, MO, when conservativemedia and the police force collaborated to deny that racial profiling caused the shooting of Michael Brown. We encounter it each time someone insists that before we can come to a conclusion, we need to hear "both sides" of a story -- even when the victim is dead.

The reason could well be that we simply don't want to believe that we live in a setting where people are capable of the worst, or that we contribute to them doing it. Worse than acknowledging that these things happen is coming to grips with our complicity in these events.

And yet, what we're seeing in emerging reports is that the CBC was active in excusing Ghomeshi's behaviour. They didn't punish him when one of his employees complained of sexual harassment. They also didn't call him out when another colleague expressed discomfort over working with him in light of the assault allegations; instead, the CBC moved this colleague to another department.

The CBC believed Ghomeshi and enabled him until it became clear they might go down with him. I'm not the first to critique the CBC on this point, but this point isn't being picked apart nearly as much as Ghomeshi's "All my fans make me sick" video.

#CosbyMeme

We like to remove ourselves from rape culture by talking about it as this abstract thing we live in, rather than this tangible thing we are.

Challenging the status quo is very uncomfortable. It's difficult and it hurts.

It's normal that we don't want to believe the absolute worst about ourselves, but until we come to terms with how we create and participate in what we are, we can't possibly expect to correct any injustices.

Sometimes hashtag campaigns do a better job of creating discomfort and exposing those injustices. Among the many things #BeenRapedNeverReported achieved, it legitimized victims' voices by eliminating the consequence -- and relevance -- of disbelief.

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