The following discussion is based on thoughts that have been flying around in my head for a long time, brought together hopefully coherently based on social media discussions this week surrounding Sarah Everard’s horrific murder by a man who was in a position of power.
It astounds me that we – ‘we’ will be used as a general term throughout this piece referring to society, and people as an average. It is not applicable to all nor is it indicative that everyone thinks the same way.
It astounds me that we live in a society whereby it is easier to accuse someone of lying than it is to accept that bad things happen, and that bad people exist in positions of power and privilege.
It’s always been something that I have questioned in situations, whether that is at work or at home or when I hear something on the news. Why do we assume that people are lying? Why is the natural reaction to jump to victim blaming and unease? Easy – because it’s easier to believe that people lie than it is to accept that we live in a world where really awful things happen. Because to accept that we live in world where police officers plan and carry out horrific murders means that our world is not shiny and ok and that makes us anxious and scared and anxiety and fear are not welcomed emotions.
As a society, as family groups, at work places, within social constructs, and as individuals, when something incomprehensible happens we experience anxiety around it. As individuals we can develop coping mechanisms against that anxiety so that if, for example, a child discloses something to me at work I can park my anxiety around it and deal with it professionally and appropriately, maintaining a child centred view, approaching it with compassion, empathy and belief. I can do this naturally, without thinking, it comes as easily to me as breathing, as it will for a lot of us. I approach all things with an open mind and a believe that inherently, people don’t disclose things that aren’t true. Or at least, I try to. There have been things that have happened that have completed knocked me sideways and whilst outwardly I have maintained composure and calm, inwardly I have had to work very very hard to not just fall apart.
Some people, do not have this. And that is ok. Some people struggle to comprehend awful things, such as domestic abuse, bullying, sexual assault and rape, physical assault etc. So the built in response as a result of this is doubt and even denial. “Are you sure that happened?”, “What did you do to cause it?”, “I don’t believe you” are questions that can arise when we don’t have the appropriate response to a traumatic disclosure. This isn’t a negative thing individually. Why should we have to condition ourselves to accept bad stuff. It is negative when it is society wide, and it is.
As a society – we do not have this. And you only need to look at the response to Sarah Everard’s murder to see that. People come out in their droves to remind us that it’s not all men – YES WE KNOW THAT IT ISN’T ALL MEN BUT THAT ISN’T THE POINT. People got very angry and vocal about what Sarah should have known or done in order to prevent being arrested under false pretences, kidnapped, raped and murdered by a police officer because victim blaming is easier, and causes less anxiety than accepting that there are police officers in this country who want to cause harm to people – women, men and children. Thinking like this makes it even harder to change societal thinking and behaviour when institutions such as the MET issue statements to suggest that Sarah was somehow to blame for what she subjected to or to even deny that the perpetrator was a policeman. All that does is reduce their own anxiety and guilt, it serves no positive purpose.
But it’s not just events that grab the public eye in such a traumatising way that are met with such distain and disbelief.
For example, Dr Jessica Taylor shared a thread online this week regarding an incident whereby a police officer forced his way into her house under false pretences and then the Police buried it and claimed it never happened. She has been horrifically trolled for speaking out, accused of lying, told it never happened. Except it did. Individually, there will be lots and lots of people who believe and support her disclosure. But collectively, those voices are drowned out by the disbelievers because we are not doing enough to promote institutional and societal change to these events.
I went onto Twitter earlier and within a couple of minute I had read at least 30 different accounts of women having frightening, abusive experiences at the hands of men.
These aren’t isolated incidents.
And what collectively is true is that they can’t all be lying.
People are not lying about their experiences at the hands of their partners. People are not lying about their experiences when dealing with people who are meant to protect us. People are not lying about what’s happened to them as children or adults.
Which is really weird because the most common stance of disbelievers and abusers is that victims are lying.
This narrative is thrown around and repeated and grows arms and legs until you then have a whole thread of people on Twitter (other social media platforms are available) who have decided that someone must be lying. Because if they’re lying then we feel better, because it means that people are good and bad things don’t happen and our anxiety levels remain normal.
Here’s the thing though – we can’t all be lying.
The statistics around rape and sexual assault are horrendous, but we need to talk about them. More than 1 in 20 women are raped between the ages of 16 and 74. And those are just the ones that are reported. Think about that. Think about all the women you know. Add up your female family members. Think about those in your workplace. MORE than 1 in 20 women are raped. So you know at least one. You probably no more.
They aren’t lying. It happens. Day in, day out, across the country, across the world. To people we know and to people we don’t.
It’s hard to comprehend. And so collectively society has decided that people lie.
We will just continue to disbelieve and blame victims and that that will do the trick. It won’t. All it does is force people to keep things a secret, to not disclose, to not tell the truth and speak up about domestic abuse, violence, rape. All it does is cause more harm.
Within the statistics there will be things that aren’t true. This doesn’t happen as much as people think. In fact, when you know what people go through once they disclose something like sexual assault or rape then you come to realise that false stories would get found out very quickly.
Creating long term change in thinking and approach starts with acceptance. We need to accept that these things happen, we need to accept that this will cause us to experience anxiety and fear and outrage, and we then need to sit with that. It is outrageous that these things happen. It should make you feel sick that someone you know has been raped. It should make you feel outraged that people abuse their positions of power to hurt people and for the most part, get away with it.
It should make you feel incandescent with rage that our government refused to make misogyny a hate crime because it is ‘too big of a problem’.
You shouldn’t bury your head in the sand by deciding that these things don’t happen.
Incomprehensible things happen all around us, NO ONE is lying about that. But all the burying our heads in the sand is doing is enabling more incomprehensible things to happen. It is silencing victims. It is enabling abuse.
It is killing people.