Downplaying, Doubting, and Dismissing Allegations
Unfortunately, allegations of sexual assault are often met with doubt and skepticism-- which often leads to the downplaying of the very serious crimes, or even outright dismissals. Students have learned this response not only from their peers and administration, but from law enforcement and the whole of our 'rape culture' laden society (Frohman, 1991). Many people look for a variety of reasons to latch onto in order to downplay or dismiss the allegation. The story must be told repeatedly without any resemblance of an inconsistency (which, as one victim respondent reported, can be extremely difficult since the events were highly distressing and may have involved alcohol). Ulterior motives for the accusation are looked at. People even try to match what they see in the victim with what they believe are traits that a sexual assault victim would exhibit (Frohman, 1991). This doubt makes Sexual assault the only violent crime where victims are not assumed to be innocent (Ray, 2013).
This type of treatment is the largest factor in keeping students from reporting their assaults, and it is clear why that is. One of the respondents reported that this type of reception was as hurtful and disillusioning as the assault itself. She now feels that she had been naive to expect a more humane response, and though she has been indurated by the harsh reality of peer and administrative response to sexual assault victims, she is active in the movement to right these wrongs and create greater understanding and knowledge in order to prevent other victims from receiving the same treatment that she and so many others had, and to stop the occlusion of justice.
The other victim respondent said that fear of this kind of treatment is what prevented her from reporting her attack. The scars of the act itself were bad enough-- she did not want to add the damage of victim shaming. And it is hard to blame her. In my other interviews, it was clear that most felt that allegations were often overblown or contrived lies that were made up after a shameful or embarrassing act. Both victims acknowledged that this does happen and see it not only as an incredible insult to victims, but as one of the greatest dangers to advancements in sexual assault response. The small number of false reports overwhelm and weaken complaints of the actual, horrific crimes.