Discussion of sexual harassment and sexual assault, mention of victim blaming
Having a good sense of hearing is, generally speaking, a useful tool for people working in the service industry. It certainly is for me as a bartender. In my 17 years pouring drinks, I can’t recall how many times it has come in handy. Often, I’ll be in the process of helping one group of people decide what they want to drink when another group sits down at the bar. While making the drinks for group one, it is not unusual for me to overhear what group two is deciding to drink and, if they settle upon something, for me to make their drinks and greet them with their cocktails (or beer/wine as the case may be). Many a guest has remarked at how impressed they are that I can hear conversations in a bar with loud patrons and/or music. Sometimes that hearing can lead to awkward moments, like the times I’ve happened to hear people discussing sexual activities. Other times, it can lead to commiserations, such as a recent chat three people were having about the challenges they faced with caring for an elderly family member and the additional difficulties of that family member having dementia.
(Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: I am not in any way trying to eavesdrop on guests. Between my hearing and the relatively small size of my bar, (comfortably seats 12 people) it’s hard NOT to hear what people are saying, unless they are speaking softly (which isn’t something most patrons at a bar tend to do; certainly not these two guys) ).
Then there are the decidedly unfun, so-frustrating-I-want-to-pull-my hair-out conversations that I’d be happy to never hear again.
Like the one I heard yesterday between two guys. They were complaining about the #MeToo hashtag and the ever growing list of men who have been publicly accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. Sadly, like many men (and more than a handful of women and non-men), these guys had doubts about the allegations. One of them brought up the fact that many of the victims waited decades before speaking up about their assault. I was supposed to be ringing in the food order for another guest, but as I stood at the computer, all I could do was shake my head in frustration. Frustration bc those two guys sounded like countless other men online or in meatspace who leap to defend the accused (that frustration was made worse bc I wanted to speak up, but A: I was also tending to other guests, B: the two guys did not seem reasonable on this subject, C: I would have had to spend time I didn’t have engaging the two louts to effectively counter their bullshit, and D: even if I did have time, I would have to figure out–on the fly–the most polite way to express myself so as to ensure I still got tipped, since I do go to work to get paid). They sounded like many Rape Culture apologists. The ones who say things like:
“They’re in it for the money.”
“They’re doing it for the attention.”
“It wasn’t sexual assault. It was regret sex.”
“it’s a conspiracy to bring down powerful men.”
“whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
“If they really were assaulted or harassed, they would have gone to the police right after it happened.”
Check out the comments on any article about sexual harassment or sexual assault. Whether it’s a local newspaper or a nationally renowned publication, you are almost guaranteed to find comments of a similar nature. They betray a great deal of ignorance (and demonstrate a lack of compassion) on the part of the speaker and they send a message to victims and assailants alike: sexual harassment and sexual assault should be treated with immediate skepticism and doubt. The thing is, these are the only crimes in which the default position is one of doubt. For other crimes, victims are believed and their claims treated as truthful (until and unless evidence is discovered that disputes their claims). That is fucked up and absolutely should not be the case. In my opinion,
believing victims should be the default
By the time I am finished with this post, it is almost a given–unfortunately so–that one or more women or non-men will have been sexually harassed or assaulted somewhere in the United States. S.H. and S.A. have been studied at length (for some time) and as a result, there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates how real and how frequent they both are.
While many people view allegations of S.A. or S.H. with a skeptical eye, that skepticism is unwarranted. Such claims are not extraordinary (in that they are not rare or infrequent events that are outside the normal experiences of the average person). Contrary to what many people think, claims of sexual assault or harassment are not similar to claims of water having memory, the dead being resurrected, or that certain persons possess the ability to bend spoons with nothing more than the power of their mind. The latter three are not regular occurrences in the lives of the average person, and while some may argue their claims are backed by experiential evidence, there is insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate those claims.
If a woman tells me her home was broken into, that her purse was stolen, or that she was the victim of identity theft, my response is to believe her. The same holds true of men. I had a guest at my bar a few days ago who told me he was turned down for the house that he was certain was his. I didn’t doubt his words. Instead, I believed him. I mean, why wouldn’t I–we live in a world where people DO get turned down for the home they want to buy. It’s quite common. No skepticism needed for that claim. it is EXTRAORDINARY claims that require EXTRAORDINARY evidence, not mundane claims of everyday experiences. If I’m going to believe a woman when she asserts that she was the victim of identity theft, there’s no good reason I should not also believe her when she says she was sexually assaulted or harassed.
Then there’s the simple fact that I don’t go around with the default belief that women lie about their experiences. Not only would that be a douchebag move on my part, it would also be sexist AF (bc I don’t hold the same belief about men).
Btw, I am well aware that false allegations of sexual assault do happen. However, they occur at a rate similar to other felonies. Between 2-8% of sexual assault claims are determined to be unfounded or false. That means that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault claims are true. While false claims do happen, they are nowhere near as common an occurrence as many people think.