In the UK, information regarding the allegations against actor and producer Noel Clarke has just been released. 20 women, some of whom have been named while others remain anonymous, have accused Clarke of sexual misconduct. Clarke is accused of secretly filming a naked audition, showing colleagues sexually explicit photos and videos, unwanted touching and various other forms of sexual violence. On April 10th, we saw Noel Clarke win a BAFTA, despite reports that BAFTA were informed of the allegations of bullying and sexual harassment 13 days before. BAFTA’s decision to honour Clarke anyway prompted many more women to come forward about their abuse, alleging that Clarke is a serial abuser of women.

Now is a great time to remember why we should always believe survivors of sexual violence and resist dismissing their stories. Despite the progress made by the #MeToo movement, survivors of sexual violence continue to be met with scrutiny and character assassination upon speaking out. Survivors often have their stories picked apart and challenged, more so now as social media affords anyone and everyone a platform to voice their opinion. This dismission adds to the trauma of sexual violence, not only for those who have come forward but also for those who haven’t. All allegations of sexual violence should of course be investigated; however, we must avoid the common response of immediately challenging the credibility of those who open up about their abuse.

Why should we always believe those who make sexual violence allegations?

1) Dismissing survivors adds another layer of trauma to what they have already experienced

Experiencing sexual violence is connected to numerous mental and physical health conditions, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Feelings of shame, guilt and isolation often shape survivors’ experiences. Many survivors feel concerned that they will be disbelieved or blamed, making speaking up and disclosing abuse incredibly challenging. Being met with scepticism, negative responses or scrutiny worsens the trauma of sexual violence. Coming forward as a survivor of sexual abuse requires a massive amount of strength and courage, survivors deserve to feel validated, heard and understood. So, having these claims immediately challenged renders their experience even more traumatic, adding another level of pain to what has already been endured.

2) The cost of speaking up is high

The accused are not the only ones who suffer consequences when someone speaks up about sexual violence. For the survivor, disclosing abuse comes with the possibility of multiple losses. Survivors open themselves up to the likelihood they could lose jobs, opportunities, relationships and friendships all while subjecting themselves to being judged in a court of law. Often, reporting sexual violence means going up against a system rooted in patriarchy and victim-blaming, with the very real possibility that nothing will change. Survivors of sexual violence, therefore, have a lot to lose by speaking out, despite the misconception that the perpetrator is the one whose life or career is forever ruined. 

3) False allegations in the UK make up only 4% of reports of sexual violence

When someone in the public eye is accused of sexual misconduct, there remains a prevalent discourse suggesting that false allegations of sexual violence are common. We witness assertions such as ‘they could be lying’ or ‘it is probably not true’ circulating on social media and in the news. However, statistically speaking, it is far more likely that the allegations are true than false. The evidence on false allegations does not support the common belief that sexual violence survivors frequently ‘make up’ their allegations.

4) Believing survivors is just the first step

By believing allegations of sexual violence, we create a safe space where more and more people feel able to come forward. Witnessing survivors stories being continually dismissed discourages people from seeking the help they need and making reports. Fears of having their credibility challenged often prevents people from disclosing sexual violence, therefore, avoiding this response is paramount. We have nothing to lose from believing a survivor, but they have so much to gain from our belief in them.

Sexual Violence Helplines and Websites (UK)

  • Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999, Website
  • Victim Support08 08 16 89 111, Website
  • Women Against Rape: Joint website for  Women Against Rape and Black Women’s Rape Action Project. Both organisations provide support, legal information and advocacy. They campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.
  • The Survivors Trust: 0808 801 0818, Website
  • Women’s Aid: Website
  • Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support: Website

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