As an organization whose mission is to support survivors, improve systems response and create social change to end sexual violence, we are saddened by the community response to a recent highly publicized rape trial that resulted in an acquittal. We understand that the criminal justice process is in place so that alleged offenders receive fair and just treatment, and we support fairness and justice for all. However, since receiving news of this acquittal, we continue to observe troubling public conversations about the outcome of this case: Far too many people in our community are assuming that a “not guilty” verdict is proof that the victim in this case lied about having been raped.
For this reason, we would like to strongly and unequivocally remind the public that being found “not guilty” in a court of law does not mean that the alleged offender in question is innocent. It simply means that the jury felt it could not find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the information they were granted access to. Furthermore, a “not guilty” verdict does not prove or even suggest a false allegation was made by the victim.
Sexual assault is a humiliating and dehumanizing act of violence that can cause irreparable damage to a survivor’s mental and physical health, emotional wellbeing and social life. In addition to the trauma of the act of sexual violence, survivors often face further indignity by being relentlessly questioned, shamed and judged about the violence committed against them.
Crime statistics consistently show that rape is the most underreported crime in our nation. A survivor’s decision not to report is rooted in the fear they will not be believed. We are observing far too many unjust outcomes and uninformed public discussions that confirm for survivors that their fear is justified. This makes achieving our mission not only harder, but almost impossible, and ultimately leads to more survivors remaining silent and more rapists roaming free.
One in five women experience sexual violence in her lifetime. In Baton Rouge, that equates to nearly 24,000 survivors living in our community. With fewer than 100 rapes reported to local law enforcement each year, you can only imagine how many of these survivors continue to live shrouded in silence.
For those in our community who chose to believe that women commonly lie about rape, please be aware that the number of people who have been falsely accused of rape is insignificant compared to the number of rape survivors who have not received justice. In fact, men are more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape.
We are not looking to replace an injustice with another injustice. We simply want justice.
president & CEO, STAR (Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response)