I Write Letters

[Content Note: Sexual assault; rape apologia.]

Dear People Who Don't Believe Jackie:

In my experience, people who don't believe survivors simply just don't want to believe them, and then use whatever details of any particular case they can exploit in order to try to justify that disbelief.

But I'm going to go ahead and take your "concerns" at face value, in order that you might be more inclined to believe Jackie and/or other survivors of sexual assault.

Robby Soave, writing under the headline "Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?" for Reason, does not find it credible that Jackie's friends could have discouraged her from going to the hospital or reporting out of self-interest.
If the frat brothers were absolute sociopaths to do this to Jackie, her friends were almost cartoonishly evil—casually dismissing her battered and bloodied state and urging her not to go to the hospital.
Failure to support a rape victim is something that could only seem "cartoonishly evil" to someone who has never survived an assault only to be met with indifference from friends, law enforcement, and/or even one's own family.

Some of us don't have the luxury of being able to pretend it's incredible that someone would be abandoned after an unfathomable trauma.

The secondary trauma of being disbelieved, being silenced and dissuaded from talking about your rape, or being obliged to pretend like nothing happened is extremely common.

Sometimes the people closest to you utterly fail you. Sometimes it's because they can't navigate their own discomfort. Sometimes it's because there is still a powerful stigma attached to surviving sexual assault; families with an enforced veneer of perfection will often prioritize that veneer even over supporting a child who has been abused. Sometimes it's because they think you're lying, or so fervently wish you were that they behave as though you must be, just to protect themselves from the reality of your pain that they can't alleviate. Sometimes it's just because they're straight-up assholes.

Most people are raped by someone they know, not strangers. (That alone, the fact that people are raped by their friends and family, should indicate the mere failure to support someone after a rape isn't remotely unfathomable.) Sometimes friends fail to be supportive because they know the person who raped you.

There are all kinds of reasons that friends might fail to support someone who has just been raped. And it's a particular sort of cruelty to disbelieve someone on the basis that their ostensible support system stinks.

Meanwhile, Richard Bradley, the editor-in-chief of wealth-management magazine Worth, writing under the headline "Is the Rolling Stone Story True?" for his own blog, does not believe that these sorts of sexual assaults happen in the United States:
A young woman is lured to a fraternity in order to be gang-raped as part of a fraternity initiation. It's a premeditated gang rape. I am not, thankfully, an expert on premeditated gang rape, but to the extent that it exists, it seems to be most prevalent in war-torn lands or countries with a strain of a punitive, misogynist and violent religious culture (Pakistan, for example).
He is not an expert on gang rape, but is pretty sure it doesn't happen here however often would convince him that this could have happened here. Well, it happens here. It happens in Cleveland, Texas; it happens in Cupertino, California; it happens in Suburban Chicago; it happens in Richmond, California; in happens in Orange County; it happens in a US workplace abroad. That is hardly a comprehensive list.

I certainly hope that Mr. Bradley, and others who share his incredulity based on the frequency, or infrequency, of gang rapes in the United States would not argue that they would like more gang rapes, in order to believe any individual victim of one.

Bradley is also not an expert, apparently, on sexual assault as an initiation ritual:
The allegation here is that, at U.Va., gang rape is a rite of passage for young men to become fraternity "brothers." It's possible. One would think that we'd have heard of this before—gang rape as a fraternity initiation is hard to keep secret—but it's possible.

So then we have a scene that boggles the mind. (Again, doesn't mean it's untrue; does mean we have to be critical.)
We begin to see the problem with a self-admitted non-expert on rape culture using what he has or has not heard of as the benchmark for credulity. Because, again, fraternities—and athletics teams, and the military, etc.—using sexual assault, either of an outsider or of the new pledges, as part of initiation and/or hazing is not at all an unknown thing.

That is not "a scene that boggles the mind"s of people involved in anti-rape advocacy, who listen to survivors' stories. It does not boggle the minds of women who have been gang-raped, or raped by one man as part of his initiation ritual into a fraternity or sports team, or even just so he can enter a name in a book passed among male classmates.

This, too, is a particular sort of cruelty: To use one's detachment from the threat and realities of sexual assault to impugn the credibility of those who don't have the privilege of ignorance.

Bradley has lived his whole life not "having heard" of basic truths about the ubiquity of rape and the many forms it can take. And then he positions his ignorance as objectivity to audit those of us who have intimately experienced these horrors and call us liars.

The disbelievers can't believe her friends would fail to support her. They can't believe gang rapes happen, or happen this way, or for that reason. They can't believe her injuries weren't worse; that her dress wasn't more torn; that she didn't behave this way or did behave that way.

In every story questioning the veracity of Jackie's story, I whiff a distinct disbelief that we can survive this stuff and still seem in any way "normal." They can't comprehend how survivors can go on after something like that. (It's because we have no choice.) They are so far removed from surviving this sort of experience in a privileged life in the United States, that it is incomprehensible to them that there are survivors who emerge from this shit and still look human.

There was never going to be a right way for Jackie to survive in order to convince people who don't want to believe survivors. Because this is the horrible conundrum of the public survivor: You are too broken to be credible, and not broken enough to be credible.

So they say that we are liars. Only they say it by publicly questioning "the details" under headlines phrased as questions.

Well, I have answered your questions in good faith. Do you believe her now?

I'm going to guess not, since your questions weren't asked in good faith. But please feel free to surprise me.


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