Why we often don’t believe women who report sexual assault

JUDY WOODRUFF: The sexual assault allegations
made by writer E. Jean Carroll against President Trump are raising questions again about what
women face when they go public. Carroll has said the president assaulted her
in the 1990s in the dressing room of a New York City department store. Her description meets the legal definition
of rape. At the time, Carroll told friends, but got
conflicting advice about whether to speak up and file charges. She says she didn’t because she was fearful. Her story and others are prompting questions
about the choices women make after these incidents. We look at this with Emily Bazelon, an author
and staff writer for “The New York Times Magazine.” And Soraya Chemaly, she’s a writer and media
critic. She’s also the author of “Rage Becomes Her.” And we welcome both of you to the “NewsHour.” Emily Bazelon, you have interviewed a number
of women over the years who have accused other men of sexual assault. What have you learned from them about why
they don’t come forward? EMILY BAZELON, “The New York Times Magazine”:
I think this is still a really difficult thing to do, even in the MeToo era. Women receive really mixed results. And I think we’re seeing that play out yet
again with these accusations from E. Jean Carroll. She has been taken seriously, certainly, but
we seem to have a different standard for President Trump than we do for judging the conduct of
many other men who have been credibly accused of sexual assault. JUDY WOODRUFF: Soraya Chemaly, what about
you? You have looked at this issue. I know you have talked to so many women. What’s your sense of why women hold back? SORAYA CHEMALY, Author, “Rage Becomes Her”:
Well, I think she articulated reasons that are enduring. I think there’s fear of shaming, of blaming,
of retaliation, of being doubted. It’s very hard, because we have a cultural
predisposition to perpetuate a lot of rape myths. And one of those is that women excessively
exaggerate as victims, that they make things up, that there are misinterpretations. And so, as opposed to having the woman’s testimony
be considered valid, or even giving her the benefit of the doubt of the innocence of not
being a liar, the culture in general attributes lying to women who come forward. JUDY WOODRUFF: Emily Bazelon, do you think
there is a change? I think you mentioned women even today. Is there a generational change, do you think? Are women today, younger women, feeling more
comfortable about speaking up than women, say, of my generation did? EMILY BAZELON: I think, in some contexts,
yes, younger women are really leading the way in terms of being more open and willing
to take a risk by coming forward. But, as Soraya was saying, there are still
women who are paying a price for being public. And this kind of public arena, where you’re
in the spotlight of the national media, you have Donald Trump’s denials, that’s a powerful
disincentive. I think one thing that is important about
this story that E. Jean Carroll is telling is that she has corroboration from back when
she says that this attack happened from these two friends of hers. In other stories, the lack of corroboration
has been kind of counted against a woman. Here, we have corroboration, and yet it’s
not really clear what consequences are coming out of this, this set of news events. JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this generational
piece, Soraya? SORAYA CHEMALY: I think the way I would distinguish
generationally what’s happening is that we have equipped people with a language that
maybe didn’t exist before. So, even E. Jean Carroll essentially said,
well, I didn’t call it rape, I’m not that person, I’m not a victim, I wasn’t raped. She sort of alludes to that or explicitly
says that. And I think that younger women, a younger
generation of women, understand the language and also have gone through a process where
the culture,where feminist culture is actively trying to destigmatize rape, so that the rape
victims who are able to feel very strongly that the shame is not theirs, that, in fact,
the shame should be the rapist’s shame. And that’s a struggle in our culture. We don’t live in that culture where perpetrators
really pay consequences. JUDY WOODRUFF: And speaking of that, Emily
Bazelon, how much of an effect does it have on women overall that high-profile women like
Anita Hill, like Christine Blasey Ford, who didn’t start out as high-profile, but became
so during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the fact that these women were not
believed? EMILY BAZELON: Right. I mean, I think that still has a powerful
effect. Soraya is right about this new language that
we have and the way in which I think some younger women are able to call sexual assault
or rape what it is, without feeling that it’s consuming their whole identity. I think one of the reasons some older women
are more reluctant to make that kind of accusation is that to be a rape victim feels like it
can kind of take over your whole life. And some women want to say, no, there are
obviously more parts to me. This was one experience. So I think making more room for that kind
of understanding of naming — naming the behavior what it is, but also allowing women to be
fuller, more three-dimensional people that are more than victimhood. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I guess, you know, picking
up on that, Soraya, the fact that we are talking about this more openly, we’re having conversations
today, people are writing about it, speaking about it in a way that — it was all hush-hush. SORAYA CHEMALY: It was hush-hush. And mainstream media — still, today we see
this — was accustomed to using family-friendly euphemisms for rape, things like, he took
advantage of her, or a child prostitute, or there were all of these words that we used
to downplay what was happening, to minimalize and trivialize it. And you could even hear that with E. Jean
Carroll, when she said, well, it was only three minutes, and I wasn’t one of those women
like the women that are in migrant camps. And so being able to use accurate language
to be able to describe clearly what happened is really important. And media, I think, needs to do a better job
of that, needs to do a better job of talking to victims, of sourcing stories much more
inclusively, and really understanding that the issue is not that a victim has no objectivity. The issue is that we need to be able to think
about credibility, and understand why the experience gives them a certain kind of knowledge,
and make them legitimate as sources. JUDY WOODRUFF: I also want to ask you too,
finally, Emily, about the role of men in all this. Do we see more conversation among men about
this? How — is there anything changing there? EMILY BAZELON: Well, I think some men are
really trying to figure out how to support women, how to talk about this with women,
how to listen in a way that feels deeply empathetic. And then I think some men are very nervous
about the surfacing of all this conversation in the culture, wondering about how far it
goes, whose conduct is in jeopardy. And these are all really deep and important
questions that it’s going to take a while to sort out. JUDY WOODRUFF: Soraya. SORAYA CHEMALY: I agree with Emily. I mean, I think part of the issue with MeToo
is sort of the flip side, which is men quietly thinking me too. Like, if he did that, I have done that. Does that make me this person? And, really, it comes down to an interrogation
of masculinity and manhood. We see in survey after survey that men are
much more likely to doubt women’s testimonies, unless they themselves have been assaulted. And that makes the difference. JUDY WOODRUFF: Unless the men themselves have
been… SORAYA CHEMALY: It’s the men — I mean, I
believe, in our culture, we have many more boys and men who are assaulted than we are
willing to admit to or who can come forward, because, in fact, their shame is very, very
deep. It usually takes a man until he’s in his 50s
or 60s to come forward. And so, if a man has experienced assault,
he responds to stories of assault the way a typical woman does, which is much more sympathy
or empathy or likelihood to find the testimony credible. And so I think it’s hard for men because,
in fact, if all the women around them are saying this is happening, we’re being threatened
or harassed, it means they are failing, in fact, to perform a fundamental function of
their manhood, which is to protect them. And nobody wants that information, because
it’s an impossible ideal. Men cannot protect the women in their lives. They can’t follow them around 24/7. So, in fact, the best way to do that is to
confront other men. JUDY WOODRUFF: Such a tough subject, but it’s
one that we need to keep talking about and keep coming back to. SORAYA CHEMALY: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: Soraya Chemaly, Emily Bazelon,
thank you. SORAYA CHEMALY: Thank you. EMILY BAZELON: Thank you.

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