How Even an Article on Not Blaming Rape Victims Can Blame Rape Victims
Over at Slate, Rebecca Ruiz has an article, “Why Don’t Cops Believe Rape Victims?” We know that blaming, shaming, and disbelieving victims contributes both to rape victims not reporting to police and rapists being free to continue raping. The Slate article focuses on the ways that rape victims respond to the trauma, and then talks about how increasing scientific understanding of how the brain responds to trauma can be used to convince law enforcement agents that their interpretation of a victim’s flat affect, cloudy memories, and other responses – namely, their assumption that victims are lying – may be incorrect.
Here’s the thing. The articles says the following, which could be Ruiz’s work or that of an editor. I don’t want to demonize Ruiz, just to point out this example of how deeply entrenched blaming rape victims really is:
In the past decade, neurobiology has evolved to explain why victims respond in ways that make it seem like they could be lying, even when they’re not.
What that sentence means is that rape victims act like they’re lying, but with *science!* maybe we can be convinced that they’re not really making it all up.
A better and more accurate approach would have been to say:
Neurobiology partially explains why victims respond how they do. In the context of rape culture, we (including law enforcement) frequently interpret those responses incorrectly and blame/distrust the victim.
With that comparison, see how the first example still puts the blame on the victim? It says to victims, “It’s your fault we don’t believe you, but we understand a bit better now why that’s your fault.” The second says, “We understand better your legitimate responses to trauma. With that knowledge, we can better educate law enforcement and reduce the further trauma of reporting rape, by questioning our rape culture-informed biases.”
In general, the whole idea that we need new neurobiology results in order to stop treating rape victims like liars is problematic. As Ruiz rightly notes, only an estimated 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false, while many, many more rapes go either unreported or unprosecuted. Refusal to believe rape victims or pursue rapists is a problem many times bigger than the supposed “problem” of women lying about rape, and it’s part of rape culture to skew that picture.
It’s great if science helps convince cops and judges that the overwhelming majority of people aren’t lying about being raped. But it sure doesn’t sound like needing that science is starting from a legitimate point of believing the victim, collecting the evidence, and following up, does it? After all, there is huge a rape kit backlog where the evidence was simply never processed – Cleveland, OH has started processing kits that are *more than a decade* old – and making convictions. It’s important that cops don’t treat rape victims like they’re lying, of course. It’s highly problematic that it takes results from neurobiology for some of them to even consider it, and makes me wonder if retraining efforts might be better focused on recognizing the full range of their own rape culture-informed biases, rather than explaining aspects of post-trauma brain responses.