02/01/2018 13:41 EST | Updated 03/21/2019 15:14 EDT

It's Time To Start Believing Victims Of Sexual Assault

For the longest time, we've mainly given perpetrators the benefit of the doubt. That needs to change going forward.

I was listening to a phone-in radio show on the day Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader Patrick Brown announced his resignation. One of the people phoning in insisted that we should give Brown the benefit of the doubt about his actions, and that got me thinking.

For decades, people have been harassed, groped, sexually assaulted and raped by co-workers, bosses, family members, classmates, teachers, fellow commuters, doctors, coaches, directors and producers. Up until very recently, these victims were almost never given the benefit of the doubt.

Over the decades, the victims of these crimes have had virtually no recourse; their complaints fell on deaf ears. They'd be accused of making up their stories, exaggerating the offense, being extortionists or trying to ruin the other person's reputation. Meanwhile, the defenders and enablers of these assailants were doing their best to destroy the reputation and livelihood of the victim.

These complainants learned from every victim who'd gone before them that the best course of action was to shut up and take it. They learned that speaking up could get them fired or sued, slut-shamed, or portrayed as a seducer or a vindictive bitch.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
A protester holds a sign up during a #MeToo demonstration outside Trump International hotel in New York City on Dec. 9, 2017.

They knew from everyone who'd gone before them that if they chose to take legal action they'd be virtually assaulted all over again, because in speaking with the police or appearing in court, every past action would get picked over, exposed and condemned. Instead of finding support, they'd be humiliated over what had happened.

These victims were taught to blame themselves when some predator got them drunk or roofied their drink and then violated their boundaries. They were shamed for "losing control" and reminded that they'd "brought it upon themselves." Meanwhile, no-one held their assailant responsible for his actions.

For the longest time, victims of harassment, assault and rape have been told, both overtly and in more subtle ways, that they were "being prudish" or "over-reacting" when someone groped their breast or grabbed their crotch. They were told that they were the one with the problem, not their assailant. He always got the benefit of the doubt.

Victims were told that if they didn't want to be fondled or hear lewd remarks about their anatomy, or be barraged with offensive fantasies about what a powerful man wanted to do to them, they shouldn't dress, wear their hair or do their makeup the way they did, or even just be as young and cute as they were.

It's incredibly difficult for people to say 'no' under the best of circumstances.

Men in positions of power have been continually given a pass for exposing themselves to their victims, masturbating in front of them and groping them in plain sight of others. Their handlers' message: these predators were "just having a little fun" and the victim obviously had problems with anger or was mentally unstable if they couldn't "play along" or "take a joke."

A pernicious lie was perpetrated that these victims always had a choice, always could say "no," and that there would be no repercussions if they refused the assailant's advances. Recent news events have clearly revealed the truth about this.

For decades, individuals have said "no" when a man was trying to force sex on them, but their "no" was ignored or purposefully misunderstood. Afterward, the assailant cried crocodile tears, explaining how it was the victim's fault, as they hadn't made it clear that they meant "no."

It's incredibly difficult for people to say "no" under the best of circumstances. It's that much more challenging to say a clear, definitive "no" when being sexually compromised. The innate desire to be polite kicks in, and sometimes a person can be bullied into doing things they don't want to do, for fear of causing offense.

If someone initiating sex with another person even bothered to understand this all-too-human dynamic, it would be easy for them to recognize that their intended partner was not agreeing to the activity.

yacobchuk via Getty Images

If the potential offender was more sensitive, caring, interested and aware of how difficult it is for anyone to engage in confrontation, they'd easily be able to identify the non-verbal signs of an unwilling participant in any sort of sexual activity: the rigid body language, turned-away head, pulled-away torso, and shaking of the head, among other signs.

If the individuals pushing for sex had given their intended partners the benefit of the doubt, the vast majority of sexual assaults would never have occurred. The truth is that many of these assailants don't care what the other person wants. They have an agenda to fulfill — to get laid — and they're going to fulfill it, no matter what.

For decades, those who minimize and enable the behavior of the perpetrators have said, "He grew up in a different era. He wasn't aware that things had changed." My answer: he lives in the present. He's responsible for knowing today's rules in the same way as, for example, a driver is.

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They've said, "He's a college athlete; he can't lose his scholarship." My answer: if he had so much to lose, why wasn't he more responsible with his behaviour?

They've said, "He's the victim of a malicious plot." My answer: if we examine the actual evidence the truth will surely come out.

Victims are blamed for not saying "no" clearly enough, but perpetrators aren't blamed for pushing themselves on their victims. Victims are decried for speaking out about their assaults but a perpetrator isn't criticized when his gang of defenders undermines and discredits his victim.

For the longest time, we've mainly given perpetrators the benefit of the doubt. Now it's time to start giving the benefit of the doubt to those individuals accusing powerful men of sexual harassment, assault and rape. It's the only way to redress the egregious errors of the past and begin to create a fair and equitable environment for complaints of this nature to be explored.

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