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Speaking out - and speaking out

Moments like this, when so much media preoccupation (both mainstream and social) is centred on allegations of sexual harassment, offer a timely opportunity to highlight the impact of public statements on sexual violence, which all too often lose sight entirely of their very real impact on survivors.

Taking the step to report any sexual crime can be difficult, and it’s vital that when someone does, they know that they can do so with confidence that they will be both believed and supported, and that proper procedures will follow. [Image © Laura Dodsworth]

The very real difficulties complainers experience can be significantly compounded when the alleged perpetrator is someone in the public eye. The sort of victim-blaming they experience, along with apologism on behalf of the person accused, can really be amplified in such circumstances in a way that can be very damaging, both to those reporting, and also to others considering doing so.

What we've seen much of in the last few days, particularly on social media, is an even greater willingness than usual to blame those coming forward and question their motives, because a political context has rendered them more vulnerable to scrutiny and their credibility to more doubt than would otherwise have been the case. There is no way of gauging accurately the impact of such armchair pundits on reporting rates, but at Rape Crisis Scotland we have very often been told by survivors ‘Who would believe me? I was a teenager/child/employee/ward/in the care of/dependent on/frightened of etc etc X, a pillar of the community/family man/respected professional/superstar/religious figure/sportsman etc etc. It is overwhelmingly the case in our experience that the fear of not being believed, or having their conduct, motives or integrity called into question is one of the most obstructive barriers to survivors coming forward.

It is vital at times like this that no one either on mainstream media or social media – or indeed anywhere loses sight of the fact that what we are talking about in such discussions are sexual crimes. Responses to events like these really matter, for it is there that those who have been assaulted look to gauge whether or not they will be believed, and whether it is worth speaking out at all.

If you're thinking about weighing in on these issues, whether in a professional or personal capacity, please take a deep breath before you do, and ask yourself what your words would mean to someone currently screwing up the courage to come forward, possible after months or years of hesitation, to say ‘it happened to me’.

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