Today (27 September 2018), around the world, women will be calling for action in support of survivors like Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who have been silenced. Women’s March movements across the globe will hold a minutes silence in solidarity with Dr Ford, wear black and white, and write “I BELIEVE” on their hands to highlight the routine silencing of female victim survivors of sexual violence.
Dr Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have garnered global attention with President Trump himself tweeting about the allegations. As to be expected, Trump’s controversial intervention was at best biased towards Kavanaugh, whom he tweeted was a “fine man” however in reality it constituted the worst form of victim blaming, casting doubt over Dr Ford’s allegations. Trump went onto write further tweets stating that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” charges would have been filed. In a later tweet, Trump said, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”
With these tweets Trump did not only attack Dr Ford, he also cast doubt on the credibility of the thousands of women who report historical sexual violence and abuse, each year.
There are many varied and complex reasons why a victim survivor may not report the sexual harassment, violence, abuse or rape that they suffered, till years or decades later. At the heart of these reasons are twofold central themes, the first being that women are often too traumatised from their experiences and are in a process (if they’re fortunate enough to receive help and support) of dealing with the aftermath on a continuous journey of recovery. Women who have been sexually assaulted report suffering from PTSD, suicidal ideation, severe mental health illnesses such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, weight loss or gain, and in some cases it severely impacts on their life expectancy. The aftermath also includes the incredibly challenging impact the sexual violence will have on the relationships of the women with those around them such as partners, parents and families. A revelation of historic sexual abuse or rape, can destroy families.
The other central reason is fear of being disbelieved and vilified. The appalling victim blaming, reaction to the allegations against Kavanaugh, whereby the lives of his accusers have been scrutinised, shamed and the women themselves smeared, has shown exactly why women are reluctant to come forward and report their perpetrators of sexual assault. Dr Ford has said that since going public with her testimony, she has received death threats, her email has been hacked and she was told to leave her home.
Harassment and targeting of women and girls who speak up about their experiences of sexual assault is very common. A member of the She Speaks We Hear team who wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child by someone close to her family, has recently been subjected to a targeted campaign of harassment. Messages on social media platforms have circulated questioning her narrative, shaming her and her mother, as well blaming them for the abuse she endured.
Under no circumstances is it ok for a woman to be targeted in this way. It is an attempt to silence her. Shut her down and stop her from speaking up and standing up to the person who abused her. More often than not this form of silencing is conducted by people close to the perpetrators or in high profile cases by their supporters. Often women will withdraw their complaints against perpetrators, as a result of the harassment which, let’s be clear on this, is another form of violence they have had to endure.
Women I have worked with very rarely report their experiences to authorities or even to their families, they stay silence because ultimately speaking up can be just as traumatic as experiencing the sexual violence in the first instance. There are cases of young girls and women who have taken their own lives after disclosing sexual abuse or assault, as a result of being disbelieved.
We live in a society in which women are less likely to be believed, rape prosecutions and then convictions are disproportionately low compared to the number of women reporting rape. Myths about the number of fake reports of sexual violence are regularly circulated to perpetuate a culture of rape denial, when in reality statistics show these are very few and far between.
Questioning victim survivors narratives, poking holes in their stories, pointing out inconsistencies, and labelling them as women who desire attention or having some ulterior political agenda, is potentially fatal.
Victim blaming is still very much the default position when a woman reports sexual assault or historic abuse. That is why women across the globe today are coming together to say “I BELIEVE” and stand in solidarity with the hundreds and thousands of women and girls that suffer sexual violence year on year.
To all women victim survivors, I believe you, stand by you and will not tolerate those who wish to silence you. To those who perpetuate a culture of rape denial and victim blaming, your targeting and harassment will not be tolerated, you will be called out on it.
By Akeela Ahmed MBE
Akeela Ahmed has been an equalities activist and campaigner for nearly nearly 20 years. On Muslim Women’s Day, she was listed in Nylon magazine as an activist that is ‘making a difference’. In 2014 she founded ‘She Speaks We Hear’ which gives unfiltered women’s voice a platform. Akeela advises and works with government in tackling anti-Muslim hatred, sitting on the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. She is also a social entrepreneur within the social housing sector. Akeela is co-organiser of the Women’s March on London and in January 2017, she spoke to over one hundred thousand people at the Women’s March on London. For her work with WML she was listed as one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017.
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