There is a Name and Shame Campaign presently taking place on social media. I love it. But I also hate it.
I love it because it has given survivors of sexual abuse – harassment, and rape the confidence to name names without fear of Judgement or retaliation, to some extent. I love it because it gives survivors a power they might feel had been taken away from them when they thought keeping quiet was better than pursuing justice or telling their truth in a world where the lines between consent and force are way too blurry to tell them apart.
I love it because it accords all of us the opportunity to put a face to the perpetrators of such violent acts. I love it because it creates an environment where people can have this sort of conversation, with the ripple effect being, inadvertently weeding out future potential rapists as a friend so candidly put it. Or it could be weeding out rapists that have been getting away with it so far because they think buying a girl beer or gifts somehow gives them unlimited access to her body.
I hate it because it thrives on ‘guilty before proven innocent’ with the world acting as jury. It instantly shames without question or reservation. The focus is solely to provide survivors of such violent acts a platform to anonymously name their perpetrators without fear of judgement. Anyone that appears to defend or question the truth behind the claims is instantly judged as a rapist sympathizer. There is absolutely no question of innocence for the accused. In fact, no one is supposed to even mention such a possibility lest they force the survivors back into their shells.
I have religiously followed Mariska Hargitay’s character Olivia Benson in Law and order Special Victims Unit chase her cases through all 20 seasons, so much so I can fluently and confidently mirandize perpetrators in my sleep. So many times I’ve heard the Olivia reassure survivors with the phrase “I believe you”. I can gather from the times she’s said this that one of the things survivors grapple with mostly is being believed by those they confide in. I have personally witnessed this with survivors of gender based violence. Most of the time their desire to be believed supersedes their desire to pursue justice. Doubting their claims is like victimizing them all over again. And this is where the Name and Shame campaign becomes complicated. In serving one side the right to be heard without judgement, it is robbing the other side of that same right.
It is a fact that more women than men encounter sexual abuse. It is also a fact that many women and men do not report this abuse for fear of not being believed or lack of evidence, and sometimes even shame. It is also a fact that sometimes innocent people get accused by malicious people seeking to damage their reputation or gain an advantage over them. But how can we know if someone is lying or not, or innocent or guilty? This is a conversation that seemingly well-meaning humans do not want to have because it is morally acceptable to believe a survivor in this day and age than to question them, even if there is a possibility they might be lying or that whatever case they think was rape does not actually constitute as such.
Fortunately, or unfortunately (because you can never really be sure with me), I enjoy having such conversations. I believe it is possible to safeguard the dignity of supposed survivors of rape and at the same time accord the accused à right to be heard or defended (even if they might not deserve it) until they’re proven guilty. I understand this is impossible in cases where the statutes of limitation are long due, or where the survivor does not wish to pursue legal justice but just wants to be heard and believed. The bottom line is, whether you like it or not, if you accuse someone of breaking the law or acting unjustly towards you, especially if you do so publicly, you must prove they are guilty. Simply writing down someone’s name is not sufficient enough.
The Name and Shame campaign is demanding that we show support to survivors of sexual violence by believing at face value that whoever has been named is truly guilty. The only reason I support this campaign is because it has allowed so many women to finally speak their truth. That in itself is empowering. But there’s a BUT.
There is an assumption that when people ask questions, then they don’t believe the survivor. Which shouldn’t be the case. Innocent men have been hang before for crimes they did not commit. Some men have lost custody of their children because an embittered ex accused them of molesting their own children. Some women that gave in to their urges and regretted it later have ended up telling their friends that they were raped due to fear of being labelled ‘easy’. Good men have lost their families and jobs because someone they refused to give in to got back at them by crying rape. And let’s not forget, women have been raped by people they thought were ‘safe’, people holding prestigious positions of influence, and no one believed them because ‘there’s no way in hell that man could ever do something like this.’ So yes, the possibility of injustice taking place is possible for both the survivor and the accused.
Granted, there is a manner in which certain people ask questions or come out in defense of those accused that automatically discredits and disrespects supposed survivors. Making them feel like they asked for it, or that they deserved what happened to them. I have seen comments like, why come out now? What took so long? If you were really raped you should have reported when it happened, you want to cry rape after enjoying free drinks and gifts? and so on and so forth. There is an assumption here that reporting rape is supposed to be so easy. Well it’s not. Most survivors blame themselves for falling ‘victim’ when they shouldn’t. Because they’re already blaming themselves for something that isn’t their fault, they don’t want other people confirming their worst fears. Unfortunately, other people always do. Rape isn’t about being provoked by external stimuli. It’s about one’s inability to control themselves (their actions) regardless of perceived stimuli.
Imagine a fine looking vixen seducing you on the dance floor, grinding her body against you in ways that defy gravity. She willingly gets into your car, in fact, she’s the one leading the way and unzipping your trousers faster than the speed of light. You’re all bothered and hot, burning for some release. Her pants come flying off by her own doing and just as you’re about to brace yourself for landing, she pushes you away. There’s a B-word for the kind of pain a man experiences when something like this happens. Is it fair? Hell no it ain’t! But guess what, the moment she/he says no or stop, it’s game over. Anything that happens after that fact is….RAPE. Even if the woman’s sexual resume is thicker than Jezebel’s, if she said no, it’s over.
Sometimes I feel like the world has become too politically correct that there’s no place for logic anymore. It has become so hard to have honest conversations with people without fear of being labeled as anti-something. For someone who’s a women’s right’s advocate, I’m not expected to ask people not to jump into publicly convicting the men that have been accused in this campaign without evidence. Doing so apparently means that I am siding with the perpetrators. I feel like there’s something we always forget to tell survivors about openly confronting their demons; that it is a road paved with hurdles but it’s also a journey worth taking. We give them the illusion that it’ll become alright as long as they tell someone. But it is not always that easy.
We live in an imperfect world where sometimes justice does not equal morality. It would be nice if we didn’t have to ask survivors of sexual violence to relive their torment just so we can lay the facts straight and prove innocence or guilt but we ain’t riding unicorns here. If you’re going to ask people to shame someone they know, then you should be ready to answer some questions without assuming that they’re discrediting you…because unfortunately, the road that leads to catching perpetrators is the same road survivors use to tell their stories. It is one hell of a bumpy ride, but one that should be taken if any healing or justice is to take place.