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Believe survivors of Gender-based Violence

Believing survivors of violence means choosing to have no preconceived judgement on a person. It means being able to empathize with a survivor and make them feel that their voice matters. Women’s access to justice starts with believing survivors.

According to UNWomen, “only 1 out of 10 women survivors of violence seek help from police, globally.” In Nigeria, most women have limited access to justice, and the perpetrators in most cases do not receive the punishment deserved.

So why should we believe survivors of sexual violence?

There is a lot at stake for the survivor.

We often question the authenticity of the story of a survivor of sexual violence, but how often do we sit down and ask ourselves ‘What does the survivor have to gain from lying against a perp?’ The risk involved in being brave enough to tell your story after being violated, and publicly, is high for the survivor as they often face the risk of becoming isolated from family, friends and their community after speaking up.

They also face the risk of character defamation since the burden of proof rests on the prosecutor (the one making the claim), and character of the survivor will be used to determine guilt or not in court. Asking questions like, ‘what was she wearing? Why was she there? Why didn’t she leave? would only serve to re-victimize the survivor of violence. Speaking up could also lead to losing one’s job and livelihood as organizations may want to distant themselves from the survivor.

She may also live in fear of possible retaliation from the perpetrator for telling the story of his evil act.

Speaking up means revisiting trauma.

When a person goes through a traumatic experience, the normal response is to bury and suppress the memory. As Sneha Janaki, counselling psychologist at Reflective Arena, explains “When trauma impacts the brain, there is a likelihood of some kind of forgetting, not remembering details, an incoherent story”. This may mean that the survivor’s testimony and recount of the event might sound incoherent. This is doubled with the fact that violence is often committed in private, survivors may not have a witness for their case. When the burden of gathering and providing evidence falls on the survivor, it may be difficult for survivors to make a strong case.

Numbers don’t lie.

One of the most controversial disputes affecting the discourse related to violence against women is the dispute about the frequency of false allegations of sexual assault. But do you know that false allegations are rarer than you think? According to the FBI, only 8% of rape allegations are false. Moreover, a 2010 US analysis of ten (10) years of reported cases indicate that the prevalence of false allegations is between 2-10%.

This means that the likelihood of coming across a false allegation is rare.

If statistics can be trusted, why then do we dismiss claims of abuse? This is because fake allegations receive a lot of media attention and we apply same judgement and assumptions to all future allegations.

These are a few reasons why we should believe survivors. If anything, our first reaction should not be to doubt the survivor. Doing this inflicts more trauma on the survivor and makes the journey of getting justice a lot more difficult and painful for the survivor.

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