Believe All Women: Boundary or Benefit?

TW: Rape and sexual misconduct 

“Or with an outstretch’d throat I’ll tell the world aloud/What man thou art.”


“Who will believe thee, Isabel?/My unsoil’d name, the austereness of my life,/My vouch against you, and my place i’ the state,/Will so your accusation overweigh.”


This is a quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’, from the scene where Angelo, an established government official, is attempting to persuade a young Isaella to give up her virginity in return for having her brother pardoned. The play was written in 1603, yet the meaning and depth of these words are not lost on the society we live in today, over 400 years later. 


If you haven’t heard about the Ayia Napa rape trial, heres a low-down: a 19 year old girl from Britain was on holiday in popular party destination Ayia Napa, which is located in Cyprus. She claims that she was raped by a group of Israeli tourists one night and that they also filmed the entire incident. Ten days after she reported the incident, she retracted her statement, following an unrecorded 8 hour interrogation, with no legal representation, interpreter or kin present. The men accused were allowed to return home, and were greeted with a “hero’s welcome”. 


This case highlights two things apparent in Shakespeare’s quote. 1) men are believed far more easily over women, and 2) where the state is involved, women become secondary factors in need of control.


These factors reappear time and time again during sexual misconduct and rape cases; from the immediate disbelief in a woman’s allegations, to the invasive nature of rape testing kits, to the public slander women receive just from simply reporting the crime - as seen with this case, where the 19 year old went from victim to suspect in a matter of hours. 


Of course, I am not claiming that all allegations end up this way. On the contrary, awareness around consent, boundaries, and sexual conduct has risen significantly, I would say in the past ten years alone. However, cases like the Ayia Napa one show us that there is so much still to be done. 


One of the responses that interests me a lot is the ‘believe survivors’ movement, born out of the ‘#metoo’ wave, originally started in 2006 by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual assault in society, but adopted and developed into a broader movement in 2017, following the Harvey Weinstein allegations. 


Here’s the problem I have with the “believe all women” premise: why should we believe all women? The solution to our problem is not to put women everywhere on a pedestal of truth and claim that they cannot lie, exaggerate or have their claims interrogated. Sexual abuse allegations ruin lives and reputations, and falsely accusing someone is unjust. Now, I have come to understand that there is a popular belief held by women which states that they are not concerned with ruining innocent men’s lives - for it must be a by-product of ‘undoing the patriarchy’, and if a few innocent men have to suffer in this process, then so be it. To this, I would reply: bullshit. I have seen what false allegations do to someone’s life, their reputation, their mental health, and if that is what “smashing the patriarchy” entails, then I want no part of it. Demonising men, disregarding their own wellbeing for the sake of women, is no better than when men do it to us. 


Bari Weiss articulates it perfectly: “I believe that the “believe all women” vision of feminism unintentionally fetishizes women. Women are no longer human and flawed. They are Truth personified. They are above reproach. I believe that it’s condescending to think that women and their claims can’t stand up to interrogation and can’t handle skepticism. I believe that facts serve feminists far better than faith. That due process is better than mob rule.”


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all of this as a way to excuse what happened to the 19 year old in Ayia Napa. There is obvious foul play on behalf of the Cypriot authorities regarding this case, and they should be bought to justice. The accused men should not have been allowed to go home until the teen was given a fair trial, and she should not have been slandered for where she chose to go on holiday, who she chose to sleep with before the incident occurred, or for simply reporting a crime. On the other hand, I also believe that the protestors in Cyprus, and indeed across the world, holding “believe all women” signs are wrong, I think this information is misleading for reasons already stated. 


Navigating rape and sexual misconduct cases is difficult to say the least. When it comes down to it, the only people who know what happened are those involved - and even then, their individual accounts of events can differ so much that it becomes his voice against hers, and the facts get lost in memory. 


I do not believe all women, but I do believe that all women have the right to speak, and to be heard without immediate slandering. I believe that the same goes for men, guilty or not. Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise, and if we forget that, we become no better than those trying to silence our voices. 


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