Guest post: "Survivors of sexual abuse must know they'll be believed"
Women's voices are invalidated if we treat victims of sexual assault differently to victims of other crimes, says Victoria Smith
Posted on: Fri 12-Feb-16 13:21:14
(28 comments )
When claims of historical sexual abuse are made, police should not have to adopt the policy that "a victim must always be believed". This is the position laid out by Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, this week. Instead the police should proceed "with an open mind" - a more "neutral" approach.
That all sounds very reasonable, doesn't it? It's not that the police don't want to believe you, or think that what happened to you wasn't really a crime; they just don't want to be taking sides. Forget about the long history of police officers treating victims of rape and sexual assault appallingly. We don't need safeguards any more. We can trust the police to be honest and objective, so much so that they shouldn't be expected to offer complainants the same in return.
But what would an open-minded, impartial approach to investigating sex crimes look like? Would it involve protecting the "anonymity of those accused"? Or ignoring the fact that 99% of sex offenders are male, or that false accusation rates are extremely low? Would it mean portraying those accused of sex crimes as rational people with "tarnished" reputations, while accusers remain "emotional" and "damaged by their experience"?
A lax approach to victim testimony in cases of sexual abuse does not merely affect confidence; it limits the reach of investigations and prevents other survivors from coming forward.
The trouble is, what Hogan-Howe presents as neutral and impartial is anything but. He has offered yet another biased account of the problem, in which certain elements (e.g. the trauma of those falsely accused) are included and other elements (e.g. actual false accusation rates) are omitted. This is deeply unfair to victims, not to mention potentially dangerous.
Hogan-Howe admits that his proposed impartiality may not give victims confidence in the police. But a lax approach to victim testimony in cases of sexual abuse does not merely affect confidence; it limits the reach of investigations, preventing other survivors from coming forward and putting more vulnerable people at risk.
When we say "a victim should always be believed", we are saying that those who make complaints of sexual assault should be treated the same as victims of other crimes. As Joan Smith writes, "you wouldn't expect a police officer to laugh in your face if you reported a burglary or to suggest, without evidence, that your car hadn't really been stolen." The people who tend to lie about rape are rapists. We offer them the benefit of the doubt, so why can't we do the same for those whom they abuse?
Sex crimes are gendered crimes and we live in a society in which women and girls are still not considered credible witnesses to their own lives. To say "I believe you" does not secure a conviction – that remains a matter for a court of law – but it validates the experiences of victims. Women have never been permitted to claim ownership of "neutrality" - as feminists have often argued, male experience is always seen as just "experience" whereas female experience is always female - that is, partial and biased.
To engage with the full extent of sex crimes we need to recognise that there is a serious problem with how men are raised to disregard the bodily autonomy of others, and using language which makes these 'others' less credible - that is, less real – can only make things worse.
By Victoria Smith
"To engage with the full extent of sex crimes we need to recognise that there is a serious problem with how men are raised to disregard the bodily autonomy of others, and using language which makes these 'others' less credible - that is, less real – can only make things worse."
This, this and this again.
I couldn't agree more. I was shocked and saddened when I heard his comments. The police should be ashamed by their record, this linda defends it. I think it shows that the investigations into the child abuse ring will be buried. This props up the establishment and makes it harder for victims to come forward, and it was already hard.
Lumpys said how I feel.
It's so frustrating, what can be done? Many people just don't take any interest in these things, look at this thread........4 comments since yesterday.
Sex crimes are gendered crimes and we live in a society in which women and girls are still not considered credible witnesses to their own lives
As opposed to all the boys who were victims of the Catholic Church who find no difficulty in being being believed?
And no that is not a "what about the menz" but the writer seems uninterested in the fact that in the case of historic child sex abuse whilst the perpetrators will almost certainly have been male the victims were not.
I note also the comments made by Sir Bernard Hogan are following recommendations made in a review by Dame Elish Angiolini, former Solicitor General and Lord Advocate in Scotland.
The proposals about impartiality came from her report and recommendations.
This isn't about crimes against women, it's crimes against children. It's not about gender, it's about male adults using power and control. The OP has completely disregarded the young boys who were raped and tortured in children's homes, schools, churches, sports clubs. Do they not matter? Do their voices not matter? Their 'shame' is so great that they have often killed themselves by now. Your narrow minded view continues the shame that perpetuates the idea that they aren't male.
I agree glintwithpersperatio
I would be very surprised if the majority of MNetters did not want justice for victims of historic abuse.
This article however is badly written for the reasons you have pointed out. In addition in the writer's rush to castigate Sir Bernard (a man) she manages to overlook Sir Bernard is taking the advice of Dame Elish Angiolini ( a woman, and a woman with practical experience of dealing with the prosecution of serious crime, unlike the writer)
Perhaps the writer has read Dame Eilish's report and finds it lacks merit (although I doubt it)
The point is that it is now harder for all victims to come forward.
99% of sexual crime is committed by men. 85% of adult victims are female (from the crime survey of England and Wales). That's how it is gendered. And I didn't think that the OP was just talking about crimes against children either (in fact the emphasis seemed to be on adults).
But no pretty much any child speaking about abuse isn't believed by the authorities.
I am a foster Carer who sadly specialises in sexually abused girls
I have major reservations about the OP.
Firstly, from the 10-20 abused girls I have liked after, there has never been a successful prosecution. The police have been fantastic in every case, but the process of gathering evidence ( particularly the intimate examination), the legal processes etc mean cases are often dropped as they will be too traumatic or lack chance of successful prosecution. This is what needs to change.
Secondly, people do claim they have been sexually abused when they haven't. I have seen foster carers' and residential workers lives destroyed through false allegations. Sometimes the allegations are clearly ridiculous but the current stance means making an allegation is a way of a young person getting themselves out if a difficult situation. Even when their allegations are proven unfounded, there are never, in my experience, repercussions for the young person. This is damaging on a wider level as allegations are one of the main reasons carers withdraw from fostering, leaving a shortage of carers and more young people at risk.
If I was independent ? Rather than following sociak services rules) if someone disclosed sexual abuse to me, I would not advise them to report it. Not because of the police but because if the whole bias against sexual abused people. ( I would however encourage them to seek counselling and medical services, which locally are excellent).
This guest post comes across as just a knee jerk opportunity to have a pop at a senior male police officer. There is no indication the writer has made the effort to do any background reading.
He set himself up to be popped at (if that's an expression!). He came out with the comments.
Not sure of the relevance of a woman writing the report? I think your bias is showing Lass. The OP didn't refer to Sir Bernard's sex as a factor for him making the comments. Nor did she say that victims are routinely believed by women but not men. Who doesn't believe you when you report a sexual crime I would have thought was pretty gender neutral as everyone is affected by the prevailing myths.
He set himself up to be popped at (if that's an expression!). He came out with the comments.
The criticism is made of him. He was following the advice of the report by Dame Eilish - some one who possibly (unlike Glosswitch ) knows what she is talking about. I would say it is Glosswitch's bias which is showing -plus she makes the article all about women, not victims, being believed. More bias.
In your opinion she knows what she's talking about.
I'll take Dame Eilish's opinion over Glosswitch's on this subject. Especially given Glosswitch's biased comment about "women and girls not being considered credible witnesses". in relation to historic abuse. It's really quite astonishing she could write that.
Lass, you seem to have a problem with women, why is that? I am genuinely curious.
I have a problem with biased articles like this. Is the fact it was written by a woman supposed to render it incapable of being criticised?
Glosswitch has seized on the comments, seems to have completely missed their context (which is equally funny and sad given the bakground is an extensive and detailed report written by a woman )and put her own spin on it - resulting in her turning it in to a piece about women not being believed, as opposed to victims, not being believed.
I think when an unfair system is about to become even more unfair that's a problem.
We are moving backwards to a system that doesn't believe victims.
Obviously point scoring against the female who wrote the article is more important.
I'll leave you to it and remain deeply concerned that it has become harder to report abuse when the system was already stacked against you.
Yy LumpySpacedPrincess. What does 'impartial' actually look like I wonder?
There is masses of evidence that women and girls not being considered credible witnesses. It just tends to get shouted down by a few white males who are worried about being denied access to girls/women's bodies any more.
Palmer - Yes, some cookies. Bless, must bring back such fond memories for you of Huntley, too
I'll leave you to it and remain deeply concerned that it has become harder to report abuse when the system was already stacked against you
Well according to Glosswitch apparently only if you are female. I think she might find victims of historic child abuse who are male experience the same difficulties.
Obviously point scoring against the female who wrote the article is more important
I have a huge admiration for the female who wrote the report which the female who wrote the article obviously didn't bother reading.