CN: rape, sexual assault
Ellie Rowe examines the accusations that survivors so often come up against.
Think about every famous man who has been accused of rape or sexual harassment. Ched Evans, Bill Cosby, even the current President of the United States. I, for one, can’t remember the names of any of their accusers or victims. Doesn’t this perhaps suggest that what rape allegations actually do is make famous men infamous?
Even just googling ‘famous rape victims’ throws up hundreds of names I don’t recognise. Cases that are famed to be ‘well-known’, I have never heard of, and not because I’m ignorant of world news. Sitting here writing this article, the only women that I have heard of becoming notorious for having sexual encounters with famous men seemed to have had them consensually – Marilyn Monroe, Monica Lewinsky, Stormy Daniels, to name a few. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, his female accusers are not using rape allegations to become famous – they already are famous, and want to make him infamous for being a serial sexual harasser.
So where does this claim that rape allegations make women famous come from? Who would want to be remembered and celebrated for being raped (except, of course, for being a survivor who has overcome something so traumatic)? Then there is the question of women ‘lying’ about rape to make themselves famous. More often than not, rape allegations are not believed anyway – but when found to be categorically untrue, what woman is going to want to be famous for lying about something so devastating?
It feels like ‘rape allegations make women famous’ is just another thing people say to avoid responsibility for sexual harassment. They demonize the woman by making it seem as if she is using something harmful to get ahead in life – when really, it is usually the rapist who either gains fame for being a criminal, or gains fame for being accused of being one. If the mindset that women are always just ‘making it up’ is meant to achieve some kind of end, it is the perpetuation of a rape culture that will never believe claims of rape at all – and will allow it to become standard practice for cases of rape to go unpunished. This kind of claim also feeds into the narrative that women are malicious and vindictive, and seek to destroy the lives of men. Most women reporting rape have experienced something incredibly traumatic, both in the rape itself and in building the courage to come forward and talk. By devaluing their claims and brushing them off as attempts to become famous, we make rapists the victims.
If a rape allegation makes a woman famous or brings her more attention because of the bravery she has exhibited in coming forward to share her story with others, like Munroe Bergdorf has recently done, then this is not a bad thing. We need women to become notable for having the courage to share their stories, which, above all, is done to help other victims to feel like they can survive sexual harassment and come out the other side confident and ready to come to terms with what has happened. This is not to say that survivors who find it too difficult to come forward and share their stories are wrong to not do so – but that survivors who do speak out about their experiences help to create a space where all survivors can feel as if their experiences are being given a voice and recognition.
Rape survivors should be encouraged, if they feel capable of it, to come forward. The statistics that 1in 5 women aged 16 – 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence, yet only around 15% of them choose to report it to the police, are way too high for our cultural rhetoric to be constantly discouraging the public belief of rape victims who do come forward. Yes, there are false claims, but every single claim should be investigated, and the victims should be allowed credibility, like the victims of any other crime. By dismantling rape culture and ignoring damaging, baseless claims such as ‘rape allegations make women famous’, we can make coming forward to share traumatic experiences much, much easier for survivors.
Illustration by Maegan Farrow.