On Sexual Abuse, Victim Blaming and the Court of Public Opinion

Within the last couple of days, one of the online communities that I am heavily involved with has been rocked by the news that someone they admire and trust is under investigation for sexting with his underage fans. The FBI has become involved in this investigation as it involves naked photos of underage female fans.

I am not going to give names. There are a lot of people who are extremely hurt at the moment and feel betrayed. There are also those who simply do not want to believe or refuse to believe it and are demanding proof. There are also some who do believe it but are dismissing it by stating, “The girls were old enough to know what they were doing”, or “It was just a mistake on his part. It is no big deal.”

On a very small level, I can understand not wanting to believe it. This reminds me a bit of the whole Penn State affair. When you admire someone, especially if you considered them a friend, it is very difficult to accept that they may be capable of doing something terrible, whatever that terrible thing may be. Whenever I hear people rallying behind someone being accused of terrible things, I do my best to look at it from their perspective. For example, if suddenly news broke that Sir Patrick Stewart was a woman beater, there would be a part of me that would not want to hear it. Especially considering all he has done to help victims find their voices and speak out against in. I would feel crushed and betrayed. That being said, I would not for one moment think it was not possible.

Perhaps this is a result of spending more than half my life being the victim of sexual and physical abuse and assault. Perhaps it is the result of entering a relationship, when I was a teen, with someone who was twice my age and who took advantage of the fact that I was very troubled after growing up in the worst of dysfunction, someone who was in a position of authority in the small town where I resided. Perhaps this is a result of having people not believe me when I finally had the courage to come forward. Perhaps this is a result of having others say I asked for it or that I deserved it. Perhaps this is a result of having adults, ones who were suppose to protect me, testify on behalf of my abuser and call me a liar. But I know what it is like to be subjected to the, “We won’t believe it until you show us proof” thing that occurs in all of these situations where the person who is being accused of doing the abuse is well liked and trusted.

But guess what public? You are not a court of law. You are not entitled to any proof. To demand it is re-victimising those who were brave enough to come forward. And because minors are involved, unless someone leaks their names, you will never get what you are looking for.

Do you have any understanding about how difficult it is to come forward in this situation? Do you know how much shame the victims feel, not only in this situation but all situations of abuse? Regardless if the abuser is the scum of the earth and people think, “I always thought there was something wrong with them” or if the abuser is the most liked person, the victims are already blaming themselves. The victims probably worried a great deal that no-one would believe them if they came forward and there is a chance the abuse went on for a very long time because of the inherent fear involved when coming forward.

Every time anyone demands proof in any situation like this, every time someone says, “Until I see the facts”, there is a victim of abuse reading that who decides they will remain silent because they don’t want to go through that on top of what they are already going through. Every time you decide that you are going to be the investigator, judge and jury, demanding proof that you are not entitled to, you make it extremely difficult for people to speak. The court of public opinion is not a court of law. Let the authorities deal with it. Respect the privacy of the minors involved. And even if the minors were okay with showing the public proof and having their names out their, whilst risking people calling them a slut and saying that they were a consenting party, they probably can’t anyway otherwise it would hinder the ongoing investigation.

And even so the court of public opinion is not a court of law, unfortunately, the damage is done. Even if the investigation is dropped, regardless if charges are pressed, regardless of any verdict of innocent or guilty, there are victims around the world watching and reading, and being seriously affected by your words.

The court of public opinion nearly killed me. I would probably be dead if it were not for my grade 11 English teacher. He saved my life. I was severely depressed and felt like no-one believed me about my abuses. He took the time to write little notes to me on the back of all of my English assignments. The one that had the most affect on me was when he told me to look at my fellow students. 1-in-4 of them were the victim of sexual abuse. Even if I was the only one brave enough to speak out about it, I was not alone. Other people were silently struggling with their abuse and that I had real courage to speak out.

To those who want to support the alleged abuser in this situation and any situation I say the following: You are entitled to be in denial and not want to believe it. It is difficult to accept that someone who is trusted may have done something very terrible. It okay to not want to judge them until it is all over. It IS NOT OKAY to demand proof. You ARE NOT ENTITLED to the facts. It is NOT OKAY to say, “Okay. Maybe he/she did it. But those girls knew what they were doing too.” It is okay to want to wait to see how the investigation develops. I just ask that you consider how you would feel if you were in the victim’s position. How would you feel if a trusted person from whatever community you belong to was abusing you in some fashion, you finally had the courage to say something and then no-one would believe you unless you re-victimise yourself by showing them the proof? Just think about that.

To those who have been and are currently the victims of abuse: Please, tell someone. I know how terrified you may be. I know that you don’t want to hear people tell you that you are at fault or that you asked for it. I know you don’t want to have to prove it to anyone, and you will have to bring proof at the very least to the authorities. I know how humiliating the process is. I know how talking about it can feel like you are being re-victimised. I know how even the simplest questions from those who are investigating can feel like they don’t believe you, when all they are doing is their job so that they can move forward. I get it. But you really are not alone. You need to tell someone before it kills you. Please speak and go to the proper authorities. Please try and take some comfort in knowing that even if you feel alone whilst you are going through this, even if no-one in your “real” life supports you or understands it, there are many more people like you.

I hope that sometime in my lifetime a victim of abuse is able to speak up, without shame. However, after seeing how some have reacted to this situation, when not that long ago they were rallying behind and supporting the unnamed victims in other abuse cases, I’m sad to say that today is not that day.

One Response to On Sexual Abuse, Victim Blaming and the Court of Public Opinion

  1. Thank you Jules, you hit the nail on the head as usual.
    I’ve been privileged to support a child through their disclosure of sexual abuse, the subsequent police investigation and court trial of her abuser. It was traumatic but she was incredibly brave. The defendant’s solicitor tried to say she had lied about it – she was only 6! It makes me angry how skeptical and defensive adults can be when they hear about disclosures of abuse.

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