Given the spotlight on sexual assault, several men feel that their own safety is endangered. They wonder if an innocent hug or touch will be misconstrued as sexual assault and reported, or worse – exposed on social media.
Recently, I took to Facebook to post about, and out, a person I knew to be a violent sexual offender. (It turned into a big issue, even meriting a piece in Rolling Stone India about sexual assaulters and social media.) The incident happened years ago, and although the police were involved, nothing came of it. While there was sufficient evidence to support the accusation – including an admission of guilt from the perpetrator – people raised several questions about the incident and the verity of my post.
While I was able to calmly, and satisfactorily, answer all those who asked (it is a question of a man’s life after all), a close friend of mine asked me a question that requires an answer. ‘How do you know that a woman isn’t accusing anyone falsely, with ulterior motives to destroy a man and his life?’ My friend wasn’t coming from a place where he doubted a woman’s statement, he was genuinely concerned. So, I’ve attempted to answer his question to the best of my ability. I hope that this doesn’t just help my one friend, but other men out there with the same question.
So, how do you know that a woman isn’t accusing anyone falsely, with ulterior motives to destroy a man? The truth is, you don’t. You don’t know which woman you meet on the street, on a date or work with – or even smile at or say hello to – will use that opportunity to devastate your life with a false accusation.
However, here’s what we women ask ourselves every day, ‘How do I know the men I interact with won’t assault me, abuse me or rape me? We never know for sure, either. Yet, we go about our business anyway, interact with people, take all the precautions that our families and society tell us to take and hope for the best.
Now, here’s where these two sets of concerns are different. One happens way more than the other. We see reports of rapes, assaults, harassment nearly every single day in the papers – all across the world, in metros, in villages, rich and poor countries, young and old perpetrators and victims. Just the degrees of brutality differ. While it’s difficult to measure false accusations (here, ‘accusations’ is used to include claims that haven’t been reported legally as well) According to some US-based NGOs, the number of falsely reported rapes is as low as 2%. And another one found that the percentage of false reports made to US law enforcement was 7%.
And the cases we hear and read about are just the reported ones. And this is where we see the funnel in action. Globally, only 300 out of every 1000 rapes and assaults are reported – and the number is much, much lower in India but increasingly rapidly as women come forward more often. Of those reported in India, less than 20% are actually taken to trial and concluded with convictions, and most of those convicted are released on bail.
Why so few? Simply because of the sheer amount of barriers that prevent speedy justice for sexual assault survivors. If a woman gathers up the courage to actually report a crime, bureaucratic inefficiency, intrusive questions and moral judgement from the police are enough to dissuade her from ever stepping into a police station again.
If she decides to report anyway, she is required, by law, to submit to a thorough medical examination within hours of the rape, answer the police and medical professionals’ uncomfortable questions and face harassment from the very authorities that are meant to help her.
Unfortunately, the trauma of rape is such that most women clean themselves after the incident, thus legally destroying all evidence. In the case of assault, there is often little to no evidence apart from the woman’s word. And so, several legitimate cases are dropped due to ‘lack of evidence’. The criminal walks away scot-free, maybe slightly humiliated. The woman though is left to grapple with the trauma of what happened to her and the omnipresent judgment of those around her and the world at large.
If only 2% of all reported rape cases turn out to be falsely reported globally, we have to wonder why is the number so low? Apart from the obvious obstacles women face in reporting crimes like these at all, one possible reason is that there aren’t a lot of women out there who are malicious enough to want to ruin a man’s life in this way, and also risk delegitimising any woman who has ever actually been assaulted. That being said, it’s not like such people don’t exist. There are vile women out in the world, just as there are vile men.
To sum it up, how do you know if a woman is going to falsely report you? You don’t. But the chances of you getting falsely reported are statistically negligible, but the probability of a woman getting raped is high. So high, in fact, that we are constantly told to be careful about who we even talk to.
So, just be a decent person. All the data is in your favour, and most likely, the woman you’re with is also a decent person. And if you see assault happening around you, or you know someone to be a harasser, don’t be complicit in your silence.
Abhilasha Sinha is a 23-year-old Mumbai-based musician, feminist and food enthusiast. Find her on Instagram: abhilasha_sinha