Opinion: We need to believe the truth
Sexual assault is a raw subject for many on campus. In a 2016 survey conducted by the university, 9.5 percent of women surveyed reported having been sexually assaulted on campus. On top of that, a staggering four percent of women surveyed reported having been raped.
I find these numbers disgustingly high. Several friends of mine have confided in me their personal experiences dealing with sexual assault and rape. Having listened to their detailed accounts, I learned the appalling truth of what truly goes on in the darkest underbelly of our school. It’s clear that this problem is pervasive, and needs to be addressed more thoroughly.
I’m a strong supporter of gender equality. When I was young, I watched my mother go into work every day to support our family. While my father was working from home and taking care of me and my sisters, my mother was out working at DuPont breaking traditional gender norms. She raised me to have an unconditional respect for women. Her example taught me that there was nothing a man could do that a woman couldn’t. My upbringing made me a staunch supporter of the #MeToo movement in 2017. I felt nothing but pride and respect for the courage thousands of women displayed in bringing down Hollywood and Washington, D.C.’s biggest monsters.
While I’m incredibly proud of the strides made during #MeToo movement, I’ve started to notice a troubling trend with today’s rhetoric surrounding survivor reporting. Because of the serious nature of assault allegations, along with a strong movement to empower survivors to tell their stories, a kind of infallibility has surrounded public accusers of sexual abuse. News outlets will report an alleged account as if it is fact. They give little regard for the account of the accused. This culture has created a toxic precedent of “guilty until proven innocent.”
After discussing this issue with several individuals on campus, I kept hearing the same argument over and over: “We need to believe women unconditionally.” Any disagreement or even questioning on my part was met with anger and hostility. “Don’t you support women’s rights?” I was asked. “Why are you such a sexist?” another queried. I found my values overlooked and discredited, not just because I’m a man, but because I dared to suggest that a woman was even capable of telling a falsehood.
False rape accusations are rare. A widely cited study by the University of Colorado, Boulder, states: “False allegations are 5 percent of all rapes reported to the police.” However, this number overlooks the vast amount of rapes that go unreported. “At least 90 percent of rapes are not reported to the police,” the article says. “[This] suggests that of all rapes … 0.005 percent are false allegations.” These numbers clearly indicate why women should be given the benefit of the doubt. But while the false allegation percentage is small, it shows proof that men can be falsely accused.
I will always support women coming forward with accounts of sexual abuse. To put them down with claims of nonbelief would only enable their abusers to continue their heinous actions. I’m in no way calling for suspicion or the discrediting of any individual who has the courage to tell their story.
However, I will give a cautionary statement. We need to carefully review both sides of the story. To ignore an opposing party’s testimony would undermine the system of due process that makes our country a bastion of freedom and justice. I ask that we judge each individual on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, we risk potentially destroying the reputations and lives of good people. The unquestionable belief in one gender is not feminism. It is not equality. It is oppression, plain and simple.
My hope is that we will continue to empower women to come forward with accounts of abuse. We need to create an environment that prevents men from taking advantage of women. I want to live in a country where I can raise a daughter without fear of rape or assault. However, I also want to live in a country where I can raise a son to not fear the sting of a false abuse allegation. Only when both options coexist will we be able to live in a land of true equality and freedom.
To report or receive help regarding sexual assault on campus, please call the UD sexual support hotline at (302)-831-1001.
Jack Rutman is sophomore at the university. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.