Our statement on belief
At Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, we work from a woman-centred, feminist perspective. We draw on both our own understanding of sexual violence and the knowledge which has been gathered within the Rape Crisis movement from the women who have used our services over the last 40 years.
This means that when women speak to us about sexual violence, we start from the position of belief. We are aware that sexual violence is widespread in society, that the perpetrators are usually not brought to justice and that they use multiple tactics to silence their victims and ensure that we are not believed. We understand that when a woman speaks about sexual violence, the overwhelming likelihood is that she is telling the truth. This is a position that is supported by the body of research and professional knowledge, but more importantly we know it to be the case from our own experiences and those of the women we work with.
We are aware of the forces which undermine women’s truths. We know that both institutions and individuals in society have a long history of denying the reality of sexual violence by asserting that women lie. We are aware of several narratives which are used to try to silence us, for example the idea that women who talk about sexual violence against them are “jealous” seeking revenge, or “looking for compensation”, or have “false memories” of childhood sexual abuse as adults. We know that society often represses the truths women try to voice, and looks away rather than confronting the horror of our experiences. We reject this.
This is why we participate in hashtags such as #webelieveyou. We do not patronise women or simplify our response to their experiences by applying belief like a band-aid. We remain prepared to believe women in a meaningful way which reflects our trust in them and our understanding of the immense difficulty of speaking about sexual violence. We are also aware that sometimes as women we aren’t able or safe enough to share the full reality of our experiences of sexual violence. We may not be able to say that a perpetrator was our husband, or our father. We may feel too afraid or ashamed to speak about particular details of an assault. We may hide them even from ourselves. When supporting women our understanding of belief includes these complexities. It reverses the shameful position taken by much of society that a woman must ‘prove’ her experiences to an outsider before she can speak, but it is not simplistic or tokenistic.