An Open Letter to Sexual Assault Deniers

CW: sexual harassment and assault

Artwork by Jhinuk Barman

Sexual assault deniers everywhere,

You may be the person who comments on an article about a sexual assault case, “That woman is LYING!” You may be the person who makes a YouTube video titled, “Why We Should Not #BelieveAllWomen.” You may be the person who brushes off sexual harassment by saying, “It was just a joke!”

You say, “It’s a lie. After all, why would these women come forward with accusations of sexual assault years after the crime has been committed?” I have a fun fact for you: only 5.2% of rape accusations are false. Many women that accuse someone of sexual assault don’t have anything to gain. They’re not accusing the Harvey Weinsteins or Brett Kavanaughs of the world. They’re accusing regular people, without power, fame, or money. In fact, they are risking their reputations to come forward with the truth. Why is it that these women have taken so long to come forward, you ask? Throughout history, women have been labeled as “unclean” for being sexually assaulted. America’s Puritan roots have given birth to victim-shaming culture: just as the Puritans ostracized sexually impure women by branding them with scarlet letters, modern victim shamers scoff at victims’ stories. A victim-shaming culture has convinced sexual assault victims that they have the value of chewed-up gum, making it difficult for victims to speak up. Given that the stakes are so high and the rewards relatively low, why would most women lie?

You say, “Even if it were true, it shouldn’t be. You’re ignoring due process!” No one is saying that sexual assault claims should not be investigated. They should. However, the idea that sexual assault accusers are “crying wolf” has permeated our justice system for decades. Throughout history, there have been countless cases where sexual assault claims were poorly investigated due to excessive doubt. Emilie Miller was sexually assaulted by her high school track coach; her high school failed to take any disciplinary action against him. Just as she gathered up the evidence to accuse her abuser in court, she mysteriously died, and the case died with her. Her abuser was never punished in the slightest. Brock Turner raped Chanel Miller at a party, yet because the judge believed that the “severe impact” of a prison sentence would end his “promising” swimming career, he was only sentenced to three months. The “believe all women” movement does not imply that we immediately throw all alleged sexual assault perpetrators in jail; it means that we do not immediately dismiss these allegations as “lies.” It means that if found guilty, we do not give perpetrators a slap on the wrist.

You say, “You’re overreacting! It was just a friendly touch!” Unwanted sexual contact is unwanted. Period. You do not have the right to invade another person’s body. Ask yourself: would you be comfortable if someone made sexual advances toward you without consent? Furthermore, rape is not the only form of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes unwanted touching, sexual jokes, pressure for sexual favors, and catcalling. If both parties do not consent to the sexual activity, then it is harassment.

You say, “You asked for it by wearing that short skirt! You shouldn’t have drank!” Don’t use another person’s appearance to excuse the perpetrator’s lack of personal responsibility. Regardless of what she was wearing, it is the perpetrator’s fault. Also, women have been sexually assaulted despite wearing modest clothing. If women can be assaulted when they are wearing burqas, the clothing is not the problem. It is the perpetrator’s lack of self restraint. News flash: a drunk individual cannot consent. Alcohol is a depressant; it slows down decision making and reaction times. Given that consent requires both parties to be conscious, having sex with a drunk individual is rape.

You say, “Boys will be boys!!!” So, you’re implying that aggression and violence are inherent parts of masculinity? Violence should not be normalized for anyone. This type of attitude severely downplays the acts of perpetrators as harmless scuffles. But harmless scuffles they are not. The shame that survivors feel lives on for years. Sexual assault leaves indelible marks upon both a woman’s body and mind; the trauma ruins relationships, careers, and health. Many women suffer from PTSD as a result of their sexual abuse.

Sexual assault is not a joke. If you trivialize the stories of survivors, you are complicit in a culture that stigmatizes women for speaking up. There are no excuses for sexual assault. “It’s what she was wearing!” “I’m just trying to be friendly!” “Boys will be boys!”

No. I don’t want to hear any of that.

Listen to their stories. Feel their sorrow, pain, and guilt. Picture this: you are standing in front of a packed courtroom about to look your perpetrator in the eye. Everyone, from your parents to the media, has cast the eye of doubt upon you. The gossip and rumors have been piling on… so much that when you open your mouth to speak, words can’t come out. Only tears.

Maybe then, you will understand.

Kathleen Gu

Resources for Survivors:

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