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Blog | 05 March 2019

Believing Women

We asked one of our Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to write a piece about an important aspect of her work.

A postcard which reads 'I believe you' in a letterpress printed style

Something which comes up a lot in the sphere of sexual violence, particularly when working within the criminal justice system – as ISVA’s do – is the notion of believing women.

I wanted to write about why believing women isn’t incompatible with the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

This principle is one of the criminal justice system and it is used to determine who will be dealt a criminal conviction.

Part of our service, the ISVA service, exists for survivors of sexual violence who are interacting with the criminal justice system. These survivors, largely women, are often disbelieved on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and this principle is used as a tool to legitimise this disbelief. I would argue that this principle is borne out of a criminal justice system which exists and was constructed within a patriarchal culture that disbelieves, and silences, women at all times – but particularly when accusing men of violence.

In such a world, the accounts of men and their struggles with facing accusations are given a lot more time and empathy than the accounts of survivors.

I feel there is something really central around the impact that disbelief can have. One of the particularly cruel things, within a culture which disbelieves women who accuse men of sexual violence, is that survivors have the trauma and pain of that experience further compounded by the gaslighting they face when they recount that experience. The society we live in denies these women the opportunity to define what their experience was and how bad that experience was.

As a service, we recognise the context within which the system is built and within which women are having to share their experience. We recognise that sharing is a brave act of vulnerability and that it can be a particularly terrifying thing to do because of that social context.

We think it is imperative to believe and lift up women in a society which so often silences and fails women.