“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Carl Sagan
On a chilly fall afternoon, just a few weeks after I graduated from nursing school, the doorbell in my apartment rang as I was getting out of the shower. I pulled on some jeans, tossed on a blouse, wrapped my wet hair in a towel and went to the door.
The man standing there was Don. He was an older married man with a family, probably in his mid-thirties. He went to the church I had attended for years. He was a heating maintenance guy. It was not exactly pleasant in my apartment, as the furnace had not yet been serviced and lit for the winter, and my landlord was out of town. I was delighted to see Don.
I said, “You’re just the man I was looking for!”
He looked a little taken aback and I explained. He said, “Well, I just stopped by to check on you, but I’ll get your furnace going for you.” I replied, “Great. And I’ll make you a cup of coffee.” My mother had taught me how to be polite.
After Don finished working outside, he came in and I handed him a cup of coffee. And it all went to hell from there.
He started with some comment about my then-boyfriend (now husband Dave), who is ten years older than I am. Something like “I know you like older men.” And then it devolved into him wanting to know if I would be interested in spending a weekend with him. [Uh, no.]
I was getting increasingly nervous by the second, and managed to inch around over near the stove, where I had a cast iron frying pan near my hand for bashing his head in if needed. I kept saying, “I think you better go, Don.”
He then reached in his pocket and pulled out a French tickler (special kind of condom). “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I shook my head no, and repeated “I think you better go, Don.” He explained how much I would like it. I inched closer to the frying pan.
Finally, he gave the parting shot: “If you tell anyone about this, they won’t believe you over me.”
When he was gone, I phoned Dave and got him out of a business meeting. He came over immediately and called my mother. She insisted that I tell, not the police, but our pastor. Naturally. In fundamentalist Christianity, the pastor is basically the law, the justice system, the court and the parent. So, not knowing what else to do, and since it never occurred to any of us to call the police, I went to see the pastor.
I told him what had happened. He listened in silence and by the time I’d finished, he had his head down buried in both hands. “You’ll need to meet with the deacons, if you don’t mind,” he said. I very naively agreed.
When I got to the meeting, I entered the pastor’s study where all the deacons were already assembled. One of them was the father of a previous boyfriend. One of them was a younger man who was married to one of Dave’s high school classmates. He was the only one who didn’t look hostile.
The pastor said, “We have a problem, Sally. Don says that everything you claim he said, you actually said. What were you wearing?”
And there it was. WHAT WERE YOU WEARING? Of course. I was twenty. This was 1969. I hadn’t ever heard of this question before, but I knew immediately where it was headed.
“Why don’t you tell us the story, Sally, from the beginning?” the pastor asked. I replied, “Didn’t you already tell them?”
“Yes,” he said, “but I wanted them to hear you tell it.”
And I’d had enough at that point. I knew what was going to happen. Don’s wife had called me the day before, yelling at me, calling me a whore. She so frightened me that I got a motel room to sleep because I was afraid to sleep in my apartment. I was wearing jeans, so I was a whore. Respectable Christian women didn’t wear jeans. No matter that it was my home. And I’d had a towel around my hair, definitely a come-on.
I turned to the deacons and said, “I am not on trial here. I came here of my own free will and I am going to leave the same way. Good bye.” And I got up and left.
I was later vindicated. The following fall, the landlord wasn’t out of town and he sent a guy to service the furnace. The man did the work and then knocked at the door. He asked, “I didn’t do this last year. Who did?” I replied, “Don XXXXXXX.”
He looked at me oddly. “Did you have any problems with him?” he asked.
I hesitated. “Well, as a matter of fact, I did,“ I said. And I gave him a much abbreviated version of what happened. He said, “Well, you’re about the fifth woman who has told me this. Did you report him to the licensing agency?”
I didn’t know there was a licensing agency and I told him that. He said, “Yeah, there is. He could lose his license over stuff like this. We’re trying to get every woman he harasses or attacks to report him. You were lucky. One woman was asleep because she worked at night and she woke up to find him fondling her breasts.”
Smile. I couldn’t show it, but I was delighted. It wasn’t me. It was Don. He did this, not just to me. He did it often.
So, I know about sexual harassment. I know about not being believed. I really do understand how it feels.
Something else that was going on in 1969 was the Vietnam War. The soldiers who fought over there were my generation, boys I knew in high school. I remember vividly the anger that slowly grew over the country at the government that had gotten us into that war and refused to get us out. And I remember how that anger boiled over and scalded the returning veterans.
It was that awful picture, one of a returning soldier being spit on, or yelled at by a very outraged civilian population that caused the military itself and veteran’s groups to begin a push back. The soldier didn’t get to choose the war. And during Vietnam, he didn’t even get to choose to be in the Army.
As a result, today we have quite the opposite situation. No matter what a citizen thinks about our various wars, the soldier is almost deified. “Support the troops” has become the slogan on countless bumper stickers, and “Thank you for your service” is considered almost a mandatory comment when one encounters a veteran or current military person.
Members of the military are referred to as “heroes.”
Of course, they really aren’t all heroes. While some of them certainly are, some of them have opened fire on military bases, killing their compatriots. The draft is a distant memory of my young adulthood. Those who choose to serve do so for many different reasons, not all having to with any heroic notions of “protecting our freedom.” I had a friend who rejoined, totally for financial reasons, just before the Twin Towers fell. She simply wanted to put in a few more years and get that retirement package. Then 9/11 happened, and suddenly she was being touted as a “hero.” No matter that she never went overseas, much less into a war zone. No matter that she wasn’t clairvoyant and couldn’t possibly have seen the catastrophe coming. And I watched in dismay as her narrative changed from “This is good idea financially” to “I joined to protect our freedom.”
There are parallels to this in the community that has risen around victims of sexual abuse. Due to this seething anger that comes with not being believed, not getting any sort of justice, the push back was and is enormous. Like the push back from the Vietnam vets, it’s also justified. No woman should ever be asked, as I was, “What were you wearing?”
But, like the swing in attitude regarding veterans, the pendulum has swung too far.
I had no idea about this until I came in contact, online, with a whole group of victims. At first, I didn’t understand. I dared express, in the course of what I thought was a reasonable conversation, the notion that maybe a few people who accuse another person of sexual harassment might be lying for one reason or another. I knew this was certainly possible, as it happened in our family.
I was unprepared for the level of scorn and anger that was unleashed against me. I was told that I was ignorant and that rape victims never lie about their rape. Ever. Period. They are to be believed. Every single word.
I ran with my tail between my legs. I removed myself from the presence of the two women who had blasted me and I ran. But I still knew that the woman who accused my family member of sexual harassment had done so because she smelled money. Those two women weren’t there. I was.
That incident occurred about two, maybe three years ago. And from that point forward, I began to really notice this whole “we absolutely have to believe the victim.” I have one friend whose stock statement when anyone relates a story about sexual abuse is “I believe you.”
This, of course, is a little like telling every single person you meet that they are smart. Do it often enough, and it ceases to have any meaning at all.
When I hear/read a story about childhood sexual abuse that involves the most fantastic stuff you can imagine, from being kidnapped as a toddler to being locked in the basement, from being raped repeatedly as part of a prostitution ring to suffering life-threatening injuries, and then, as the icing on the cake, we’re told that the prostitution scheme involved customers who were largely Baptist preachers who came in groups and watched each other violate this small child, well, I’m sorry, but it strains credibility.
When victim advocacy groups trot down this path of “nobody ever lies about abuse,” they’re venturing into dangerous territory. If that were the case, why do we have courtrooms and trials? Why bother? Just go ahead and imprison the accused or hell, let’s just execute them. After all, to be accused is to be pronounced guilty.
As a result, even when these stories cannot be proved, even when they strain credulity to the breaking point, the alleged victims write blogs and books and go onto social media and make their accusations, often by name. I’ve seen them not only put their accusations in print, but provide contact information and photos of their supposed attackers.
And even worse, this “I must be believed” stuff goes further. It drifts over way beyond their abuse story. It becomes “I must be believed about everything I have ever said about anything.” And if anyone dares imply they might not believe something, the supposed victim begins with “You’re triggering me,” or “I’m being re-victimized.”
The door is open wide in this community of very vulnerable people for rampant con schemes. Any story, no matter how incredible, is believed. Any alleged victim is honored and the more horrific the allegations, the better. One wonders what would happen if somebody related a tale about being abducted at night by aliens and taken to a space ship and there receiving repeated anal probing. Would that story be believed as well? Surely, that’s a story of savage violation. And victims never lie, do they? They are certainly never delusional.
I’ve seen it even go so far that when an alleged victim is absolutely proven to have been completely deceptive about something unrelated to her abuse story, this deception is offered as proof that her abuse story was real. She lied, therefore what she says is true.
Well, no. NO.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And claims that are not extraordinary, like mine, require the regular sort of evidence. But nobody’s story is holy writ with no evidence at all.
NOTE: I have not included multiple links to various online sources of statistics involving the veracity of abuse claims. The reason is that the statistics are all over the map. I found one site that declared that 98% of all claimants are telling the truth. Another site, equally adamant, said that 2/3 of them are lying. Take your pick.
Or maybe, recognize that both sites are probably way off and the truth is someplace in the middle.
Another issue is unreported cases. Many sites factor in some imaginary unreported case rate. I’m not sure how one would establish how many cases are unreported. That a pretty good number are not is fairly easy to determine. But what that “pretty good number” might be is anyone’s guess. The whole idea that something is unreported means that we don’t know about it.