Believe victims. That phrase gets thrown around a lot and has been even more so with the recent nomination and subsequent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, there is a lot of confusion about that phrase too, as evidenced by the rise in the use of the hashtag “HimToo” online after people began to say that men are afraid of being falsely accused.
Believing victims doesn’t mean that a victim is believed over the person they are accusing, or that it is now “guilty until proven innocent.” Rather, it means that the victim’s word isn’t automatically disbelieved because there is something to vote on, or because the accusation could “ruin his life.” It means taking claims of sexual assault as seriously as one would take claims of some other crime being committed. It means treating victims with dignity and respect rather than putting the victim on trial and making a mockery of them.
With our president saying that “It’s a scary time for young men in America,” it has led to a widespread belief that false reports of sexual assault are a serious problem for the country. However, statistics show that these fears are unfounded. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, less than ten percent of all reported rape cases are false, and the statistic is more than likely less than five percent, as many studies of false reporting fail to differentiate between actual false reports, unsubstantiated reports (insufficient evidence to prove crime occurred) and baseless reports (report of an actual event that does not meet criteria for crime reported). Women’s chances of being assaulted are far higher than a man’s chance of being falsely accused.
If the fear is that a youthful error will ruin the rest of a young person’s life, then the solution is to start by teaching young people that there are consequences for their actions, and making sure that from a young age, people are taught about consent. Understanding the reasons a victim may wait years to “ruin” someone’s life matters too. Many victims are afraid that they will be hurt again, others fear not being believed and others convince themselves that nothing happened. Waiting to report a crime does not mean that a victim is lying.
The use of #HimToo (a spin on the #MeToo movement) is hijacking a movement that helped women have the courage to come forward with their stories of sexual assault, and turning it into something about men, something that is all too familiar for women. Instead of worrying so much about being falsely accused, it’s time for men to start worrying about what they can do to be an ally and help prevent sexual assault and to start being mindful of their own behaviors. Start listening to women and believing victims.