“Why are they only talking about this now?” “Why didn’t they report it to the police?” “Did they bring it upon themselves?” “Are they doing it for the money?” “Is this all just a plan to take down another successful man?”
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the president of the United States, a stand-up comedian or someone’s brother-in-law – when women speak out about alleged male violence, we hear the same, predictable responses.
Even before the allegations of sexual assault and rape had been shared by The Sunday Times, thousands took to social media to criticise the women as liars, attention seekers, fame-hungry, mentally ill... even plants from the government.
Anything but telling the truth.
And don’t be fooled, this isn’t just an army of men taking to Twitter/X with their unbridled misogyny. Women were happily among them. For a perfect recent example, look at what happened online to Amber Heard.
Research shows us that men have been victim-blaming women for decades. The numbers have stayed pretty stable. What’s shocking to me is that data shows that women who victim-blame other women continues to rise, year on year. Some studies even show that women are inclined to do it more than men. What’s happened to the sisterhood?
Take a look at Twitter/X and you’ll see a range of excuses: from, “I had sex with him, and he was really nice” to “he is clearly being targeted by Rupert Murdoch” – and everything in between. Many point to the fact that there has been no official police investigation as yet.
But as a psychologist who specialises in the blaming of women, I know there are no countries, communities, societies, or religions in the world that consistently stand by victims of sexual abuse and violence. There are also no places in the world where a woman will not be accused of lying about rape or assault.
Yet sexual violence is one of the most common forms of crime – with women and girls overwhelmingly more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment, assault and rape. Who is targeting them? Men.
”Not all men!” is the most predictable response when we present the cold, hard data – which, like it or not, shows it is a lot of men. And far from being shadowy strangers, rapists are most commonly fathers, brothers, partners, exes, friends, colleagues – and perhaps even our favourite celebrities.
When we ask why so many women never report being raped to the police, we need to look at the confidence women have lost in our police forces. Can anyone blame women for not turning to a force that harboured offenders like Wayne Couzens and David Carrick? Or one which has led to rape prosecutions falling to an all-time low?
Women and girls are socialised to blame themselves for what men do to them from an early age, so when they are abused or assaulted, the first thing they do is blame themselves. And that suits society perfectly.
Women and girls are also bombarded with victim-blaming, rape myths and victim-prejudice messages their whole lives (“she was drunk”, “she was wearing a short skirt”, “she was flirting with him”); so when they’re abused or assaulted, they measure themselves against all of that. They then ask themselves: “Is anyone even going to believe me? Am I a good enough victim? Am I going to be scrutinised?”
Many women conclude that they are so likely to be blamed, accused of lying or scrutinised that they can’t bear the thought (and gruelling physical process) of reporting or pressing charges. Many women and girls simply choose to try to move on with their lives, knowing they will never get justice.
One study in 2016 found that teenage girls who withdrew from rape cases actually had better psychological outcomes than the girls who went through with them – even when the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to prison.
The process itself is so adversarial that one woman once said to me: “There is a reason it is called the criminal justice system, and not the victim justice system.”
If women feel like this about reporting an older man sexually abusing them, or their ex forcing them to have sex – then how do you think they feel when their alleged perpetrator is a much-loved celebrity with a few million quid spare to shut them up with a defamation case?
Having worked in the criminal justice system myself, managing these types of cases, I have no time for people on social media thinking they have the ultimate “gotcha” by asking, “If this really happened, why didn’t they report to the police?”
Here’s just one possible answer: Because it can be a terrifying, intrusive process which often results in no further action – just further trauma. Of course, we would always encourage women to report it and not to let their attacker get away with it. But we can’t ignore the fact that so many women say that reporting and giving evidence about sexual violence was worse than the sexual violence itself.
Simply put: most people don’t report any crimes, let alone sexual violence.
And isn’t it interesting that the same people asking why they didn’t report it are the ones claiming they must be lying? It’s almost as if those things are connected....
Rape Crisis offers support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland, or visit their website at www.rapecrisis.org.uk. If you are in the US, you can call Rainn on 800-656-HOPE (4673)