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The Other Side Of #MeToo: The Need For Balance

Me Too By contrast… Shutterstock

Me Too By contrast… Shutterstock

The conversation around the issue of rape is one that has been going on for a long time now but in recent times has once again taken the front burner. Hardly a day goes by without seeing a reported or alleged case of rape either on the news be it traditional news media or social media.

These cases have become so frequent that it leaves a horror in the minds of many the type of society we live in. Last week’s Guardian Life cover “Rape Culture: More Than Just Another Conversation” reads that “Out of the 99.1 million women in Nigeria, a 2014 national survey revealed one in four females experienced sexual assault as a child. What is more? The Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), notes that about 31.4 percent of girls described their first sexual experience as non-consensual.”

This is our grim reality and as rape survivors come forward with their stories, we have also seen some unscrupulous characters come forward with false stories of rape. With the rise in the reportage of rape cases on social media, there is a need to take rape accusations with a pinch of salt and try to have a balanced view?

Taking rape stories with a pinch of salt until a balanced view can be achieved may be blamed for why some rape survivors don’t speak up sooner. Why survivors don’t speak up soon has been a question that has been asked time and time again during the recent public furore around sexual harassment, violence and abuse. Underlying the question is a persistent uncertainty about the credibility of victims – a concern with identifying what is true and what is false. As survivors speak out, some have been met with explicit counter accusations that their descriptions are untrue.

Questions like, What if a woman has consensual sex, and then regrets it the next day? What if an accusation is an act of revenge? What if she’s just doing it for attention? The only answer one can give is that there is a need to treat reports of rape with more caution, since the accused’s lives are so often ruined. This however comes with a price, real rapists could get away with their crimes and never be made to face justice.

Before presuming that every accused is guilty, we must also understand that the issue of sexual assault and rape are serious crimes. The effect on survivors is often great and a society like Nigeria needs stiffer punishment and penalties for rapists.

In “believing women,” there should be enough room to examine the reported case and at the very least keep an open mind as almost everyone lies, some time or other. Sympathy for rape survivor should not be a bias that an accused is instantly guilty of the crime the moment and accusation is put forward.

One of the 613 Jewish legal commandments, according to Mainmonides is number 577, “Punish the false witnesses as they tried to punish the defendant” (Deuteronomy 19:19). What this simply means is that should false accusations be treated with the same energy that a defendant would have received had he/she been found guilty, false accusations would reduce drastically.

False accusations should not go unpunished and should be punished with the same magnitude as a guilty verdict would have brought. For example, if rape is punished with a jail term of ten years, then a false accusation of rape should be punished with the same ten years of imprisonment.

The #MeToo Movement has empowered more survivors to come forward and created an awareness around the globe about rape. More people now understand or have an idea of what consent is and what consent is not. In sharing these stories, men and some women have come forward to remind all of the need for balance because of those that could be falsely accused. It is easy to want to wave false accusations aside but the reality is that false accusations happen. And we need to talk about them.

What’s clear is that the spectre of false allegation continues to dog the reporting of sexual violence. There remains a public impression that false allegations are common and that innocent people suffer as the result of being wrongfully accused.

To ensure that we are not distracted by the issues of false accusations when dealing with a heinous crime like rape and sexual violence we need to begin to also ask questions about what we can do to lift the barriers to reporting and seeking successful redress. It will also ultimately bring us closer to understanding the conditions in which sexual harassment and violence are enabled.

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