The Problem With Focusing Solely on the Men Who Might Be Falsely Accused

I am aware that the issue of sexual assault and harassment is still being discussed to some degree.

It’s still a hot-button issue within feminist circles, and the Time’s Up movement was still present at the 2018 Oscars (although it’s worth noting that Ava DuVernay, one of the leaders of Time’s Up, told the press that they would be “standing down” on the red carpet so as to not “overshadow the main event”).

And maybe it’s just my personal experience, but from the conversations that I have had lately, between people at work, people in my personal life, people on social media, it really feels as though the general public has decided to drop what was so recently a greatly-discussed issue.

And why? Sexual assault and harassment hasn’t gone away. We haven’t fixed the problem in the few weeks that #metoo was trending. One in four North American women will still be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, including 56 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women, 44 percent of lesbians, 47 percent of transgender women, and 61 percent of bisexual women. And if you want to ignore statistics, then at the very least, the amount of women who wrote ‘me too’ on social media when the movement first began should be staggering.

So, if we’re abandoning the #metoo movement, then there has to be a good reason, doesn’t there? It can’t simply be because we as a society don’t see sexual assault and harassment as that big of an issue, right?

And before I get too much farther into this, I want to make this clear: men are raped too. In fact, men account for one out of every ten rape survivors. However, I want to focus on women as the survivors and men as the assaulters in this article for two reasons: first of all, it is the most common narrative in our society, and secondly, it is the narrative that many people are speaking to when they dismiss the #metoo movement. Moreover, I will be discussing the role of women’s voices here, which does change the issue a little bit. Cases of male rape often feature very unique issues that differentiate them from cases of female rape, and if you want to learn more about these issues, I recommend checking out this article here. But, for now, let’s move on.

The main reason that I have heard cited, from both men and women, for why #metoo is harmful is a very male-centric reason: it is because we as a society are concerned about the men who might be falsely accused. Which is a possibility: unfortunately, there is always a possibility for error, in everything. That’s just the way the world works. We cannot count on every single person to be totally honest and accountable at every single moment.

Now, that being said, sexual assault and harassment seems to be the only issue wherein this argument is even remotely entertained.

False accusations are possible when it comes to any crime. In fact, they’re just as likely – if not more likely. It is difficult to state the exact statistic of false accusations, because this is not an issue that is always caught in the legal system, but it is estimated that false accusations of sexual assault rests somewhere between 2 and 6 percent, whereas false convictions of all crimes – including murder, burglary, and drug possession – rests somewhere around 4.1 percent. We know this. Heck, roughly three years ago, all of our social media platforms exploded over the Netflix show “Making a Murderer”, wherein we saw how easy it would be for a potentially innocent man to be convicted for murder. And yet, despite this, we do not see hordes of people saying that we should not seek justice for murder cases, because someone might be falsely accused.

Perhaps this is because we know that murder is a serious offence, and that in those cases where innocent people are punished, they are unfortunate side effects of an imperfect system that needs to be in place anyway. We do not have the same beliefs when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

The fact of the matter is, men are falsely accused much less frequently than women are actually assaulted. The latter is a much more prevalent problem, and it’s the problem that we are not doing anything about.

Because, more than mere numbers – men who are falsely accused are much more protected, even now, than women who are actually assaulted. If a woman reports a rape, then the man has a 57 out of 1000 chance of being arrested. From there, he has an 11 out of 1000 chance of getting referred to a prosecutor, a 7 out of 1000 chance of conviction, and a 6 out of 1000 chance of actually going to jail. Sure, it might change the way that (some) people see him, and it might put a hold on his career, but if Donald Trump, Woody Allen, and Ryan Seacrest have proven anything, it’s that you can still have a long and successful career even despite sexual assault accusations.

In other words, a woman has a much higher chance of being raped, than a rapist has of being prosecuted.

We have effectively normalized sexual assault and harassment, and we have learned methods of shutting women down when they want to talk about it. I think we’re all familiar with the typical methods – the old “well, what were you wearing?” “what were you drinking?” “are you sure you didn’t lead him on or anything?” Telling women to think of the poor men who might be falsely accused feels very similar to me. Because, yes, men might be falsely accused – especially if we someday build up a culture where women are not shamed for speaking out (but, trust me, that day is far from today).

And the thing is, right now, at this very moment, women are being assaulted and harassed. Not might – are. And we have to decide how much that matters to us. We have to decide who is more worthy of protecting – a small handful of men, or every single woman in our society.

Yes, it is a shame that some innocent men might be falsely accused of a crime that they did not commit. But we are currently privileging that shame over the very real experience of women who never receive justice, and are in fact shamed and re-victimized by the legal system and their community. When we tell women to be silent, it is much more likely that the people we are protecting are the actual rapists and predators. And, personally, that is a community that I am tired of protecting.

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The Consequences of Dismissing People

So I have something to confess: I’ve been sort of angry lately.

And why have I been angry, you might ask? (Or, maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to complain to you anyway.) I’ve been angry generally, broadly, at the state of the world.

It feels as though the #metoo movement has been losing a bit of its momentum lately, but I’ve been one of those people who refuses to let it die. And as a result of talking about this so publicly, as often as I have, I’ve been hearing a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming comments lately. I’ve had people tell me that women’s issues don’t matter. And for the first time since I opened up about my struggles with mental illness about a year ago, I’ve had people try to insult me by calling me “seriously mentally ill”, making me realize that I cannot own my mental illness without certain people immediately dismissing me as some sort of uninformed, unintelligent, worthless person.

All of this has resulted in me feeling a little bit pessimistic about the state of the world.

And that isn’t to say that I haven’t had rewarding experiences from talking about this issue. I have. I don’t regret speaking out, but the problem is that anger and pessimism is easy to fall into. As the saying goes, “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

And normally, I’d say that a little bit of anger is healthy. A little bit of anger stokes that fire in your belly. A little bit of anger keeps you going. But I don’t like this anger that I’ve had lately. This anger is not the sort of anger that keeps me going; it’s the kind that makes me dismissive and rude and sloppy. It’s the kind of anger and frustration that often comes from feeling like you haven’t been heard.

And that’s incredibly important – for both sides of every argument. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel as though an attempt was made to listen to their argument and understand and sympathize. Nobody likes to feel as though they’ve been dismissed.

And this anger that I’ve been feeling – it’s the kind of anger that makes it easy to dismiss people. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just stupid”, without stopping to think that they might have a reason for why they think the way that they do. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just a garbage human being”, without stopping to realize that they’re still a human being.

And the problem with saying the sort of things that this anger makes you think is that it isn’t constructive. It doesn’t make the other person feel as though they’ve been heard or understood. It makes them feel dismissed, because they are sort of being dismissed. It makes them angry. And when both sides of the argument feel angry and ignored, it creates a divide. It makes it difficult for any progress to be made, because both sides of the argument have shut down completely. Discussions cannot be had. Greater understanding cannot be reached. Nobody is learning anything, and that doesn’t help either cause. It only creates resentment. So although my recent anger is born from my complete and total dedication to this cause, it simultaneously hurts this cause and turns people away from it.

And, as I said, anger is easy. Pessimism is easy. There is some research that even suggests that we, as human beings, are naturally inclined to focus on the negative. And, more than that, when someone isn’t listening to what we have to say, it can be very easy to ask ourselves why we need to be the bigger person if they won’t be. Why is it okay for them to insult us, to dismiss us, to belittle us, and yet we can’t do the same to them? But the thing is, this sort of anger isn’t healthy or constructive for anyone. It hurts the person who we are dismissing, because they don’t feel as though they’ve been heard. It hurts our cause in the long run, because like it or not, we are representing it, and so we cannot use it as an excuse to mock or belittle people without serious detriment. And it also hurts ourselves, because it makes us bitter and pessimistic and sad. It isn’t fair, not to anyone. It’s easy, but it isn’t right.

And I know that it can sometimes be hard to swallow your anger, especially when what the other person is saying is something that you perceive to be very harmful. But one thing that I have found very useful for getting passed your anger is, quite simply, this: take some time with what they say. Don’t respond to them immediately, because if you do that, your response will be pure emotion. But, rather, think about it. Try to imagine the issue from their perspective. Try to explain to yourself why they might think that way (and don’t run to that default excuse that they’re stupid, because it isn’t true). When you do get back to them with your response, chances are, it will be more logical, more thought out, and more sympathetic.

And maybe they still won’t hear you. That is very possible, and when that happens, it can be very frustrating. But if you listen to them and you try to understand them (not necessarily agree with them if you just don’t), a few things still happen that otherwise wouldn’t:

  1. You expand your understanding of the issue. You see that there are other views, and you have at least made an attempt to understand the thought process behind these views, so that, if you still don’t agree with them, you can intelligently and thoughtfully explain why you don’t agree with them.
  2. You don’t make any enemies – for either yourself or the cause that you might be fighting for. The people that you have been talking to still might not agree with you, but at least they feel heard. At least they feel as though a discussion has been had (or at least attempted, in some cases), and at least they are not made to feel stupid and ignored. Nobody is hurt because of this discussion. And, whether you want to hear this or not in moments of anger, that is incredibly important.

We are far too quick to dismiss people in this society – and perhaps part of that is because anger is easy. Listening to people is difficult. It takes actual effort to sit back and think about other perspectives, and I’m not trying to say that we don’t want to put the effort in. Sometimes, it just isn’t our first response, especially not when we feel insulted and ignored.

But putting that effort in, taking the time to step outside of your emotional response, is worthwhile. As I said, a little bit of anger can fuel you, but too much anger will have its consequences.

Why I Don’t Like The Word ‘Victim’

The words that we use to describe something matters.

There’s a little joke that I’ve seen passed around on the internet from Tumblr user malkiewicz that I think illustrates this point nicely: “Synonyms are weird because if you invite someone to your cottage in the forest that just sounds nice and cozy, but if I invite you to my cabin in the woods you’re going to die.”

Connotation is everything. The words you use might have the same meaning, dictionary-wise, but the double-meaning that we have prescribed to them as a society also affects the way that we think about the matter at hand.

This is why I do not like the word ‘victim’.

I mean, if you look at the dictionary definition of ‘victim’, it’s a fine enough word, as far as words go: “one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent”. Chances are, we’ve all been victims at one point in our lives or another.

But there’s a social definition to the word ‘victim’ that I tend to not like.

When I hear the word ‘victim’, I tend to think of someone who is playing a very passive role in the scenario. And perhaps this isn’t helped by the people who I have heard use the word ‘victim’ in a negative way.

“You’re just playing the victim card.”

“Everyone wants to be a victim.”

Especially in scenarios where someone has been hurt by someone in particular, in an instance of abuse or sexual assault or discrimination, I find that the word ‘victim’ can be extremely limiting.

Because a victim doesn’t fight back. A victim doesn’t create change, or grow from the experience, or really do anything at all. A victim is… a victim. A victim hurts and wallows and needs to be saved.

And some people are victims. Some people do exactly this, all their lives. Some people have a very hard time moving passed or confronting their pain. But in a scenario where someone has been hurt by someone else, when they’ve been abused or harassed or assaulted, I don’t like to call people victims. I would rather think of them as survivors.

A survivor is a different connotation. A survivor is not passive. A survivor does not wallow, though they might hurt. And the difference might be slight, but it is important. Because people who have been hurt need to know that they can fight back.

Being hurt is not the end of our story. When we are hurt, we do not have to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves – we have options. We have a whole journey ahead of ourselves that we can choose to take.

We can fight against the person who has hurt us. And I don’t mean this in a violent or unfairly cruel way – I mean that we can stand up to them and make ourselves heard. We can remove that person from our lives if we have to. We can bring these people to justice, if we can and in whatever way we can.

We can fight for ourselves. Fight for our self-esteem and our ability to see our own worth. Fight for our ability to see our own strength, even when we think that it has been taken away from us. Fight for our self-respect and our mental health and our ease of mind. Fight to learn from what we’ve been through, and take those lessons into other aspects of our life.

We can fight for other people. We can reach out to people who have been through the same thing that we have. We can lend them an ear, or a hand. We can listen to their perspective and we can understand it because we’ve been there. We have the power to make them feel valid and heard and respected, and we can make them understand that they aren’t alone. We can reach out to people who haven’t been through what we’ve been through, and we can help them to understand that this happens, and it needs to be addressed. We can help people understand the issue in a way that would otherwise be very difficult for them, because they haven’t been there before.

There are many, many battles that can be fought by a person who has been hurt, and these battles can’t be fought by a victim. These battles are owned and spearheaded by survivors. And, no, not every person who has been hurt will fight these battles; some people get so lost in their own pain that they simply cannot fight them. But I still think that these battles are important, and I think that people should be encouraged to fight them. And I think that so many people can fight them, so long as they can find the strength. And strength can be found in something as simple as changing the language that we use to describe someone.

We are not victims of sexual assault. We are sexual assault survivors.

We are not victims of abuse. We are abuse survivors.

We are not victims of discrimination. We are survivors.

We are strong. We are capable. We are pro-active, and we have the ability to change the world. All we need to do is fight.

How The Media Normalizes Sexual Harassment

Particularly as a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with cheesy, bad horror and sci-fi movies. I ate them up, but perhaps my favourite entries into this genre was the Evil Dead series.

To this day, I will still cite “Evil Dead 2” as one of my absolute favourite movies. It just offered the exact right combination of camp and passion, of scares and humour, all at once. And, as is the case with many fans of the Evil Dead series, I positively loved leading actor Bruce Campbell. I thought he was the epitome of cool. He was to me what Batman or James Bond is to many. I would seek him out in any role – from “My Name is Bruce” to “Xena: Warrior Princess” (okay, my love for Lucy Lawless was also a big motivator for that last one).

So when I heard that Bruce Campbell was not only taking on a leading role in a major television series, but that that series was going to continue on the story of the Evil Dead series, I was thrilled.

That is, until I watched the first episode of the TV series “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”.

Now, I’m not writing a review for the series. I’ve watched the first season, and I have my own opinions, but they’re beside the point right now. What I want to talk about instead is a single scene in the first episode.

This scene begins with Bruce Campbell’s character, at work in a department store. Moments before, it has been established that Campbell’s character has enough seniority at his workplace that he cannot be let go. A male character points out to Campbell’s character that a new girl has joined them in their workplace, and the pair of them look her over for a while, commenting on her beauty. Campbell’s character then approaches her and makes several overt sexual comments, to which she responds with eye rolls and clear rejection. When Campbell’s character pushes the matter to the point that he actually begins touching her, the woman physically assaults him, at which point he finally accepts the rejection and walks away.

Watching this scene, I was slightly horrified. Horrified enough, at least, that it made me question my respect for Bruce Campbell and the character that he has built up in his movies. Because what was happening in this scene was sexual harassment. And not only that, this whole scene almost serves to excuse and normalize sexual harassment in our culture.

Because let’s start with the beginning: who Bruce Campbell’s character is. He’s an older man with seniority in this company. He has clearly worked here a long time. He’s the main character, so he’s endeared to the audience. He’s the only character on this show that has appeared in previous movies, and in those movies, he was always the hero, so we know that we’re supposed to look up to him. He’s funny and endearing and a little pathetic, but heroic at the end of the day.

And let’s take a moment to look at the female character, played by Dana DeLorenzo. This is her introduction to the audience. All that we know about her at this point is that she is new to this workplace, and she turns down the advances of Campbell’s character.

The way this scene plays out in the show, it’s all relatively harmless. He makes comments to her, she assaults him in return, he stalks off and they go about their day. But the problem is, this isn’t even remotely how this scene would play in real life. In reality, there are multiple potential scenarios that could have ended up happening.

For example, A) she doesn’t assault him. She responds the way that most women would, and she just laughs it off or ignores him. She hears her co-workers talking about how he’s kind of pathetic, but at the end of the day, he’s harmless and a nice guy, so just cut him some slack, would you? So she does. She continues ignoring him. And he keeps making comments at her. He gets steadily more and more aggressive with his comments, and whether he means to make the threat or not, they’re both aware of the fact that he has seniority over her. He’s been here longer – he has connections within the company. If he isn’t her boss, he’s at least friends with her boss. And if she wants to move ahead in the company, or even just keep her job, then maybe she shouldn’t be so “frigid” and “uptight”, right?

Or, there’s example B) she does assault him, because he crossed her boundaries and touched her when she said no. And he now has two things: a wounded ego, and a valid complaint against her, that he can take right to her boss.

Either way, she loses in real life.

But in fiction, it’s alright. It’s not a big deal. In fiction, she can assault him and end the harassment right then and there while simultaneously proving to the audience that she’s a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. In fiction, we don’t have to think about this all that much.

And this affects the way that we see these scenarios in real life. This deludes us into thinking – maybe it isn’t a big deal. I mean, if she really wasn’t interested, she could have just assaulted him, right?

Watching this one scene was extremely disappointing to me. Not only was I watching one of my childhood heroes engage in predatory behaviour that has intense, real-world consequences, it also sort of made me think about the media that I grew up watching, and the media that we’re all aware of. It made me realize just how prevalent it is to normalize sexual harassment in our movies and our TV.

Because when I was a teenager, I watched “Army of Darkness” hundreds of times without ever really clueing in to the fact that when Bruce Campbell’s character says “give me some sugar, baby”, what he is actually doing is forcing a kiss on a woman who, until now, has shown nothing but disdain for him.

And as much as I wish I could say that media starring Bruce Campbell is the only media that normalizes this – it isn’t. I only focused on it because it’s what I’m most familiar with. The truth is, it’s in all of our media.

It’s in every movie or TV show where man is rejected by a woman, and he responds by pressing the matter (ie. Han and Leia in “Star Wars”) or manipulating her (ie. Noah and Allie in “The Notebook”) or continuing to harass her until he finally gets a ‘yes’ (ie. Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory”). It is so prevalent in our society that it’s not only normal – it’s actually kind of a joke.

And when we laugh at it in the media, we don’t think of the real-world consequences that these scenarios could actually have. We don’t think that they’re a big deal, because our media tells us that it isn’t a big deal. It’s just funny.

And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the movies or TV that we grew up with. I understand why that would be a hard argument to sell, and I know that I, for one, won’t stop enjoying the Evil Dead series anytime soon. But that being said, I do think that we need to talk about these issues. Because talking about them makes us realize how prevalent they actually are – and just how engrained into our society.

When we talk about sexual assault and harassment in the #metoo movement, we aren’t just talking about a few isolated incidents. We’re talking about an entire culture that needs to be confronted and changed. This might be part of the reason why the #metoo movement has been met with some resistance – it’s a lot of change to be made. It’s overwhelming, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Because once we become aware of it and once we start talking about it, then we can start making things better for the people who have actually faced this in real life. We no longer just shrug these scenarios off as jokes – we understand them on a deeper, more compassionate level. We began to see these scenes for what they are, and they aren’t really funny at all.