Here’s what happens when we believe women:
Rapists get convicted.
A rapist who has been raping women since at least the 1960s gets convicted.
A rapist who has sexually assaulted about 60 women since in the 1960s gets convicted.
A rapist who has been denying he was a rapist, legally defending his behavior, and defaming those he assaulted, since the 1980s (or the early 2000s in a more visible, mainstream way), gets convicted.
A rapist who felt so confident he would not get convicted, that he admitted to his crimes in 2015, finally, three years later, gets convicted.
Bill Cosby, serial rapist, gets convicted.
This was not a simple, short, or easy battle. The legal process is an absolute hell, day-in, and day-out for survivors of rape and sexual assault. Make no mistake, these women who persevered and shared their stories to make this conviction possible are HEROES.
I look forward to the day when it takes only 1 survivor’s voice to convict a person of rape. When our default is to believe survivors first, instead of undermining, questioning, and minimizing.
I also look forward to when we hold accountable the countless silent bystanders and enablers who allowed this behavior to continue for decades. Because like with rapists Jerry Sandusky or Larry Nassar, there is not even the slightest doubt in my mind that from the 1960s to the 2000s people knew that Bill Cosby was sexually assaulting women. Individuals and institutions. Lawyers and companies. Executives and newspapers. They all stayed silent and through their silence and inaction, they all allowed this to happen.
I celebrate these survivors and the incredibly important way they’ve paved for the cultural movement we’re part of now. But this is just one step in eliminating violence against women. And if we want society and rape culture to truly change, we’re going to need a lot more voices that used to be silent to join us.
What can you do about to help combat the silence?
Believe. Validate. Reassure.
First, believe survivors in your life. If you find yourself questioning whether or not what they’re saying is true, stop yourself. Try believing and listening first and foremost and redirecting your thinking. There is almost zero incentive for someone to lie about sexual assault. When survivors of assault come forward, they are very rarely believed and almost never “gain” anything. Instead, survivors are abandoned by family and friends, their honest and integrity are questioned, and they may even lose their job putting their security and housing in danger (like this story of Marie in Seattle who was accused of lying about her rape. She wasn’t. And her rapist went on to attack other women). They are often threatened in person or online. So instead simply say, “I believe you.”
Next validate the emotions of the survivor – no matter what they’re feeling. There is no wrong way to feel after being assaulted or attacked. Instead of asking why they feel that way, or telling them what you would have done in their situation simply say, “I can imagine I would feel that way too” or “I completely understand why you feel that way.”
Finally, reassure them. Instead of telling them not to think or feel something, tell them whatever they want to do makes sense. Instead say something like, “It makes sense that you’d want to do that” or “After what you experienced, I understand why you’re saying that.”
It’s better to avoid asking questions. Instead, practice active listening by making eye contact, nodding, repeating back what you heard them say and asking if you’re summarizing correctly, and only if you’re confused, asking simple, open-ended (anything other than a yes/no question or a question with one answer like “How old are you?”) follow-up questions.
Click here for more resources about what to do if someone discloses sexual assault to you and to help you process the next story you hear in the media. Do you have any tips based on your experience? How do work to better support and believe survivors?