This week marks the Week of Action for the It’s On Us campaign against sexual violence. Thanks to the efforts of the student staff at CARE, UCSB has become an official partner to the campaign. Events for the Week of Action at UCSB include a pledge drive held on the SRB lawn from Monday to Thursday and a rally in Storke Plaza on Friday at noon.
The It’s On Us pledge says “I pledge: To recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”
On Sept. 19, President Obama and Vice President Biden lead the launch of the It’s On Us campaign. The campaign aims to create a cultural movement that fundamentally shifts the way we think about sexual assault. It has a simple message: it’s on us to stop sexual assault.
Despite the simplicity of the message, it’s profound. Many do not realize how much their actions perpetuate the occurrence of sexual assault. We all contribute to rape culture. We all allow sexual assault to continue to be a common part of our lives. And we need to stop.
A comment on a Us Weekly magazine article covering the Bill Cosby rape allegations provides a perfect example for just how we do this. The comment reads “Please explain why anyone that was drugged and date raped would go back and let their predator do it again? Is it possible that [this] woman had an affair with the hope of advancing career and it did not happen? Is [it] possible they are attempting extortion?” This comment shows the typical type of victim blaming language survivors face after a sexual assault. Other forms of this would be, “Look what she was wearing, she was asking for it.” Or “Well, was she drinking?”
Three women have now come forward publically accusing Bill Cosby of date rape, while he remains silent. A 2010 study by David Lisak found a false allegation rate of 5.9 percent over a 10-year period. Researchers and prosecutors do not agree on the exact percentage of false allegations, but they generally agree on a range of 2-8 percent. To put this into perspective, this false allegation rate is no higher or lower than that of any other crime.
Even if we use 8 percent, the highest value of this range, statistically speaking the chances that just one of these three women are lying remains extremely low. Yet the victim blaming language like that seen in the comment on US Magazine and in every other case of sexual assault continues to persist. Victim blaming not only accuses the survivor of being dishonest, but it also detracts blame from the perpetrator.
In the words of Vice President Biden, “It is never the right question for a woman to ask ‘What did I do?’ Never … The question is, ‘Why was that done to me, and will someone do something about it?” Why is the first instinct always to question the accuser rather than the accused? As cited above, the research shows that the chances the person making the allegations is lying are extremely low. Despite this, the trend continues to be that we are more concerned about making sure the accused is not innocent rather than making sure the accused gets the prosecution they deserve.
The stories of false allegations (whether or not they truly were false) get so inflated and spread so widely, it makes them seem more normal than they really are. Then, despite their weak personal ties (“a friend of a friend knows someone who was falsely accused of rape”), these stories become proof that this really happens and provide justification for the belief that being falsely accused of rape is a real and imminent threat. Forget the fact that I can name right now over 10 women I personally know that have experienced sexual assault.
And so the victim gets blamed. Because that’s easier than accepting that maybe there was something I could have done. Maybe I saw something I didn’t think was right, and I chose to do nothing. Or maybe the person they’re accusing is my close friend, and I would rather take a gamble and believe them rather than admit I ever could have befriended a rapist.
This common tendency to blame the victim exemplifies why I think the last part of this pledge is so important. Not that I don’t believe the other parts are also important; I have covered bystander intervention before, and it’s crucial we all start making an effort to intervene when we recognize a high-risk situation. More importantly, it’s crucial we all start making an effort to learn what those high-risk situations may look like. But that’s not going to end sexual violence. That’s not going to change the hostile environment a survivor faces after being sexually assaulted.
“I pledge to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.” If you truly take that piece of the pledge to heart, you can make a difference. Taking that to heart tells survivors that it’s okay to come forward. When a survivor comes forward and receives the proper support, it benefits not only them, but all of us. When that story gets shared, other survivors are encouraged to come forward. When they come forward, they can get the help they need and deserve and finally begin to heal. And when their stories are believed, the prosecutors will finally take the blame that rightfully belongs to them.
Not until perpetrators begin to feel the hate, anger and shame that survivors feel will we begin to see an end to sexual violence. Not until perpetrators are afraid to commit violence and see that there are real consequences for their actions will they even begin to consider stopping. Not until we begin to supporting survivors will we stop supporting perpetrators.
Survivors along with the too-small percentage of the population of dedicated activists cannot continue to carry this burden alone. That’s why it’s on us, the ones that are causing and perpetuating this problem, because we are the only ones that can stop it.
Emily Potter can’t wait for things to change, so she’s changing them, herself, right now.