Written by Melanie Rosato
Men who want to help women must first learn how to really, truly believe us.
Firstly, believe that we are able say no after first saying yes to sex. Believe that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Believe that we can say yes on Wednesday and no on Thursday. Believe that “I only want to have sex if you wear a condom” means exactly that.
If you don’t, the line can become so fucking blurry – maybe you didn’t hold a knife to her throat, but you ignored her when she awkwardly laughed and said no. And when she stopped saying no, you went ahead and interpreted that as a yes.
You probably won’t go to jail for that, but it certainly wasn’t consensual. You didn’t have her consent. And sex minus consent equals rape. Sit with this for a minute, however uncomfortable it may feel.
Secondly, believe us when we tell you that a man was staring at us, that we felt we were being watched, that we think a guy we spoke to was being creepy. Don’t assume that we’re exaggerating or imagining things, because we’ve been dealing with this since we were 15, or younger. We know when a guy is being creepy. And know that this “innocent compliment” can lead to harassment, which can lead to assault and rape and murder.
Believe us when we say that we can’t escape. We have known cases of rape and assault on buses and trains, in taxis and Ubers, in clubs and even in schools.
We find women murdered in alleyways and parks, deserts and cities and small towns, far away from home and close to home. Believe us when we say that nowhere ever really feels completely safe. Did you know that women are most likely to be murdered by a male partner or family member? That we’re most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone we know?
Google it if you want the statistics, but you shouldn’t need them to believe us when we tell you that men need to do more to make women feel safe.
And if you do spend the time researching this, you’ll find that most sexual assaults are not reported to police and most of those cases that are, do not result in convictions (and convictions don’t always involve jail time). Which means that women stood up, shared their story, and were not believed.
These women suffered through a traumatic process which included making one or more police statements, engaging a lawyer, giving evidence and being cross-examined. All of this to then be told why the man who raped or assaulted them would not be going to jail because it would be “crushing” for them. These women never heard any mention of how crushing it was for them.
You don’t have to be the person who assaulted, harassed or raped a woman to be part of the problem. If you’ve ever talked negatively about victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault, you’ve made it clear to whoever you’ve been speaking with that you are not a safe person to come to if they themselves have experienced assault.
Statistically, there’s usually someone in the room who has experienced some form of assault (including men, women and non-binary individuals, whether as a child or an adult). Keep this in mind the next time you start to join in conversations about harassment, assault and rape. If someone is joking about the thought of any individual speaking out about their trauma, I hope you will remember this. And I hope you will tell that person to shut it.
You may not be responsible for these atrocities, but you might be contributing to a culture that minimises, excuses and belittles these experiences without even realising it.
We need to be believed in order to be safe.
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