How The Well-Intended Idea Of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Is Now Perpetuating Rape Culture

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By De Elizabeth

As soon as the news broke about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, the response of the Internet was almost predictable.

Some flocked to support Heard. Others took to defend Depp. And amid both sides, there was the cutting voice of doubt masquerading itself as logic – the ones spouting: “Well, we don’t know anything yet. She could be lying. And in our country, it’s innocent until proven guilty.”

We can probably assume that most people who rattle off the saying, “innocent until proven guilty,” are just reciting what they learned in 5th grade history class, or what they might have seen on a high-drama episode of Law and Order, not actually citing the 1894 Supreme Court case that called the “Presumption of Innocence” into action. Because this is mostly just said as another way of casting doubt on someone who is coming forth to report abuse, making it further difficult for future victims to come forward.

Hopefully we can all agree that the “false accusation” happens far, far less often than accusations based in truth. Last year, a viral graphic circulated the internet that claimed that 2% of rape accusations are false. This was later challenged to say that it’s hard to pinpoint what constitutes a false allegation because the statistic was derived from accusations that were proved false, while many cases of assault are never fully closed, in part, because concrete evidence is so difficult to acquire. To finish out the cycle, this is because many rapes and assaults are reported far after they take place because our society makes it so difficult for victims to come forward. And around and around we go.

Regardless, we’re not here to talk about false accusations; we’re here to talk about the problem that surrounds reporting assaults that do happen – and how that fits into the above BS that comes along with the so-called logical “innocent until proven guilty” reminder from the collective Internet. Let’s take a look at some assault statistics for a second:

68% of assaults are not reported to the police

98% of rapists will never go to jail

rape is the most under-reported crime in the U.S.

So how does our country’s highly quoted and beloved slogan fit into all of this? It’s simple – it doesn’t. It can’t. Not until rape culture ceases to exist. Something that was put into place to protect people who are accused of crimes has turned into yet another way to shame victims of assault. And therefore the two cannot coexist side by side.

We still live in a country where the majority of “sexual assault prevention” is aimed at women, with the message of “Here’s how to not get raped.” We don’t yet live in a country where the message is “Here’s why you shouldn’t rape.”

Take, for example, West Virginia University’s “Tips For Preventing Sexual Assault.” Among the laundry list of pieces of advice is this: “Do not give mixed messages. Say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when you mean ‘no.’ Be sure that your words do not conflict with other signals such as eye contact, voice tone, posture or gestures.”

I’m sorry, but this is complete and utter garbage. This is essentially telling women, Make sure you’re not asking for it. What about telling men that women are allowed to change their mind? What about telling men that women might make eye contact, but that doesn’t mean that she wants to have sex? What about telling men that women don’t “owe” them anything? Why can’t we put the responsibility on men, and not on women?

The fact that this prominent university (in 2016 nonetheless) still has a backwards view on how to “prevent” sexual assault is essentially a microcosm of our entire country’s way of looking at this issue. (P.S. WVU officials, please read this.) The message is still “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape.”

And rape culture is more than just rape. It’s everything from being whistled at when you’re just trying to buy some f*ing groceries to the issues surrounding dress codes in schools, when girls are sent home because their clothes are sometimes deemed “too distracting” to boys. It’s the way women feel like they are on display all. the. time. when moving through public. It’s the question, “What were you wearing?” as a follow-up to reporting assault.

So that’s why “innocent until proven guilty” is an infuriating response to anyone who has the courage to come forward to report assault. Anyone who reports assault or rape is immediately facing an uphill battle in a society that doesn’t want to deal with victims – a society that makes victims feel responsible for something that is not their fault. Our culture is unfriendly enough to victims – and that’s before they even open their mouths to share what’s happened to them.

So, dear Internet, please refrain from quoting sing-song’y legalese that makes you feel logical and smart. You aren’t helping anyone.


If you need confidential help or support surrounding sexual assault, there are people who can help. Please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN’s site here.❤

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