Content warning for discussion of sexual assault
Last week, someone shared allegations that Tool / A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan had raped her 20 years ago, when she was 17. Since then, a few of other people have come forward with similar claims on forums like Reddit. The response from a lot of Keenan’s fans was one of anger, disappointment, and frustration. But far too many men—and the emphasis is on men—simply refused to even hear the claims, jumping to an assumption that they were made up and giving Keenan the benefit of the doubt instead of using empathy to extend that same respect to the survivor.
Men, we need to do better. It sucks to face the reality that people we look up to, even idolise, are fallible and are every bit as capable of doing shitty things and being shitty people as anyone else. But that’s nothing compared with how rape culture affects women and non-binary people. It’s on us to hold each other to account. It’s on us to reflect on how our own behaviour contributes to rape culture and change that. Most importantly, it’s on us to listen to the women and non-binary people in our lives—actually listen, instead of just hearing what we want to hear.
When someone says they were sexually assaulted, believe them. That doesn’t mean you’re labeling the accused as undeniably guilty or undermining the “innocent until proven guilty” thing; it just means showing trust and empathy for someone who has far more reason to be honest than to lie, and for whom speaking up takes an amount of strength that you can’t possibly imagine.
It’s easy to assume someone’s lying, especially when they’re making their claims anonymously and long after the fact. But think about why they would do that: the way every detail of the survivor’s life will be scoured and picked through in search of any reason they might be “at fault” themselves; the way they’ll be forced to relive their trauma day in and day out; the abuse and harassment they’ll have to deal with, primarily from us men; the fact that no matter what happens, no matter what evidence is brought forward, there’ll always be people—again, mostly men—who think that the survivor was lying.
Why would someone voluntarily put themselves through that, unless the pain of staying silent was worse than all the antagonism that comes with doing so?
When this is what people get when they speak up, it’s no wonder that only an estimated 31 percent of sexual assaults get reported to police (and in New Zealand, that number is just 9 percent, making it the crime with the lowest report rate). It takes so much strength and courage for someone to actually come forward, and how do we men too often respond? With doubt, with judgment, with outright denial. That’s especially true when the accused is someone we look up to. We think we know someone because they wrote music that resonates with us or starred in films we loved, and that they could never do such a thing. But they can and they do—far, far too often.
This isn’t to say that false accusations don’t happen. They do, but they’re not nearly as prevalent as men’s typical reactions to allegations would have you believe. Recent studies estimate the proportion of baseless sexual assault claims to be around 2 to 6 percent—which is higher than it is for many other crimes, but still far too low to justify a knee-jerk assumption to that any anonymous claim is false.
No doubt a lot of men will read this and think, “That’s not me. I’m no rapist. Why am I being blamed?” It’s true that not all men are rapists, but all men are complicit in upholding a culture that allows this to keep happening.
Every time we jump to an assumption that a claim is a lie, we make it harder for anyone else to come forward. Every time we ask what a survivor was wearing, whether they were drinking, or what they expected to happen when they went backstage at a concert, we tell rape victims that they’re to blame. Every time we give the accused the benefit of the doubt without extending that same empathy to the accuser, we tell rapists that they can get away with it.
That’s why it’s on us to stop this. We have to take a stand and say this is not OK, not just in our words but in our actions and behaviour. We have to fight the urge to defensively yell “Not all men!” but instead focus on how we can fight, individually and collectively, to make things better. We need to hold each other to account and call each other out when we screw up.
Most of all, we need to trust, support, and believe people who come forward with accusations of rape. To do so isn’t to judge the accused as guilty—only the courts can do that—but to give the survivor the same benefit of the doubt.
That’s how we make it easier for people to speak up, and to get the justice that they deserve. That’s how we show rapists that we don’t stand with them, implicitly or otherwise. That’s how we work to stop sexual assault from being as prevalent as it is, and all the horrific consequences for the victims.
And maybe, as little as it matters in the scheme of things, that’s how we stop finding out that our “heroes” are anything but.