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Bian: I won’t apologize for believing survivors of assault

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Bian: I won’t apologize for believing survivors of assault

Andrea Bian, Assistant Opinion Editor

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With the rise of the #MeToo movement comes a grievance almost as pervasive as the movement itself: What about lies and false accusations?

It’s a concern I’ve seen time and time again, on social media and even in the words of President Trump, who said last year that it’s “a very scary time for young men in America” due to the possibility of false accusations of sexual assault. In incidents where contradicting stories or pieces of evidence are provided, the differences can cause some to doubt the accuracy of reporting.

The concern extends to other assault incidents too — as shown this past week in the reported hate crime in Chicago against actor Jussie Smollett. On Jan. 29, Smollett, who is black and gay, alleged that he was hospitalized as a result of a physical attack by two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs. Following initial reports, social media erupted in an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike.

In the weeks after, though, two brothers who were originally persons of interest in the investigation suggested that Smollett may have orchestrated the attack by hiring them to stage a hate crime. The Chicago Police Department, which previously confirmed his report, has now said they wish to re-interview Smollett following these allegations. Smollett is now being represented by defense attorneys and has stood by his original claims that he was assaulted.

The inconsistencies in the Smollett story undoubtedly undermine its veracity. Politicians have walked back their initial statements, saying they’re waiting for more evidence before making further comments. Many on social media have already accused Smollett of lying and staging the attack. No matter what happens, the media storm surrounding the Smollett incident can damage the trustworthiness with which the public views all hate crimes.

When I first heard about Smollett’s attack, I immediately believed it to be true. Now, I acknowledge that I can’t say what exactly happened to him because, of course, I wasn’t there. But I also can’t automatically believe the Chicago Police Department, which has seen corruption, police brutality, civil rights violations and a city-wide scandal, where they covered up the shooting death of Laquan McDonald for a year before being pressured to release details to the public.

While evidence can, in some rare cases, stack up to overwhelmingly support the accused rather than the accuser, I don’t believe in walking back or apologizing for initially believing survivors.

Regardless of what President Trump might say about now being a “scary time” for men, false accusations are proven to be rare. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, false reporting for sexual assault occurs only 2 to 10 percent of the time, numbers which are often frequently exaggerated due to “inconsistent definitions and protocols.” Statistically, when I believe survivors, it’s extremely likely that what happened actually happened.

People who speak up about assault routinely receive widespread social harassment — take, for example, the numerous death threats made against Christine Blasey Ford when she testified against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh prior to his confirmation. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court soon after despite these allegations. Especially when the accused is in power, the assumption that those who speak up are lying makes it much more difficult to speak up. If an allegation of assumption was ultimately false, people wouldn’t put themselves through the harsh harassment that accompanies the allegation.

No matter the outcome of the Smollett case, I won’t change my outlook on believing survivors of assault. Reporting assault is not easy — for some, it takes months or even years to find the strength and courage to relive a traumatic event they never deserved to live in the first place. And instead of doubting whether it actually happened to them, I hope I would be able to offer support to people who, after reporting assault, need it the most.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at andreabian2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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