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After the sexual assault allegation against Al Gore surfaced last month, a friend told me: “I hope it’s not true.” I don’t. Here’s why:
No one wants to believe that gender-based violence—-like sexual assault and domestic abuse—-happens. And so, friends hope it’s not true. Neighbors hope it’s not true. Classmates hope it’s not true. Parents hope it’s not true. Football fans hope it’s not true. Liberals hope it’s not true. Anonymous Internet commenters hope it’s not true. People who happen to be attending a wrestling tournament at Seneca Valley High School hope it’s not true. Reporters hope it’s not true: The Frisky’s coverage of the recent domestic abuse allegations against “Family Matters” star Jaleel White included the line, “We certainly hope this report is untrue.”
To draw from one of the few “Lost” principles applicable to sexual assault reporting: Whatever happened, happened. Either a sexual assault occurred, or it didn’t. The only thing “hoping” can influence is whose account is supported after the fact. Commentators have hoped it’s not true for the alleged perpetrator’s sake and for the alleged victim’s sake—-as if any amount of hoping could erase a sexual assault—-but “hoping” never helps a victim. It only helps an onlooker who doesn’t want to believe that bad things happen—-and a perpetrator who benefits from the assumption that they don’t.
Victims of sexual assault frequently report being victimized twice. “That day in court was the day I fully understood the concept of being raped twice—-first during the act and then later during the court proceedings,” Latoya Peterson writes in “The Not-Rape Epidemic.” But hoping it’s not true functions well outside the legal burden of proof. It works to shut victims down before any evidence is presented, before the crime is reported, even while the assault is still happening—-Gore’s alleged victim says that she feared that “if I made dissent with Gore, I could be in danger of being falsely arrested for false allegations of alleged soliciting or even attempted assault in his efforts to do damage control.”
When we “hope it’s not true,” we state our willingness to participate in this re-victimization. We’re not hoping that our criminal justice system works to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. We’re hoping that the person who reported the sexual assault is a liar. We’re hoping that people who claim to be victims of sexual assault are all lying, that it never really happens. We’re hoping, in the end, that bad things do happen—-to good men who are victimized by bad women.
Photo via Center for American Progress Action, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0