If you hate movie spoilers, you should stop reading.
TW: Discussion of rape and sexual assault, rape statistics
When I was in high school, I heard multiple stories about girls who lied about being raped.
“She made it up. They broke up and she was upset and she faked a rape.”
“I know him very well. He would never do something like that. She’s just trying to get attention.”
At 14 years old, amidst the whispers in the halls about a girl “lying”, I fully understood the consequences of telling a peer what happened, if something like that were to happen. I never wanted to be the girl they whispered about in the halls, because no one would believe me.
I saw a movie this past week—Gone Girl. I was enjoying it for the first hour or so—the storyline was strong and the acting was good—until they revealed that the main female character lied about being raped multiple times. I became sick and angry–this was yet another movie portraying a woman blatantly lying about being raped or sexually assaulted and consciously choosing to ruin someone’s life in order to gain social capital and sympathy. With this notion constantly being normalized in the media, people find it easier to believe that women lie often about rape to get ahead.
Examples of media sources where a woman falsely “cries rape” include1:
- The film Wild Things
- The book Of Mice and Men
- An episode of Baywatch
You can argue that Gone Girl is a book about one woman, but a) there are a significant number of books and films that portray women lying about being raped and b) American society and media constantly accuse victims of rape. The false narrative that women lie about being raped is not an unique idea from one book.
In her Daily Mail article titled “Sorry sisters… but some women really are nasty”, Liz Jones defends Gone Girl by claiming “some women are manipulative. Most men are decent and don’t deserve to live in fear.”2
Are some women manipulative? Yes. Are many men decent? Yes. Do they deserve to not live in fear? Yes.
Do women deserve to not live in fear? Absolutely. However, the statistics pertaining to violence against women in the United States specifically, demonstrate that women will experience sexual violence statistically and significantly more than their male counterparts3:
- 1 out of 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime
- 7 million American women have been victims of completed or attempted rape
- Black, American Indian/Alaskan, and Mixed-race women are statistically more likely to be victims of attempted or completed rape than White women
- Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 3% of rapists will spend a day in jail.
- Two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone who knew the victim.
- Seventy-three percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.
- Despite evidence to the contrary, “when more methodically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports being to converge around 2-8%4”
Many women live in fear, fear that they will become the victims of violence. Unfortunately, that fear is not unsubstantiated.
Most people would say that if they knew a victim wasn’t lying, they would be inclined to help. Gone Girl is more than just one movie about one woman who lied. It is another movie about a girl who lied about being raped, and another false affirmation that women lie about being raped and gain social points and power, and another way to further accuse women of using rape as a way to ‘get ahead’.
At age 14, around a bowl of M&Ms and sesame seed crackers, my friends discussed the girl who lied. I didn’t even know what sexual assault was and I had never sat in on a rape trial. I had never seen the strength it took for a victim to report their rape, or the problematic aspects of the legal system that discourage many victims from reporting. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the damage rape and sexual assault cause to a victim’s life.
And yet, despite my lack of knowledge at the time, I knew that if something like that were to ever happen to me, I would have to lie–I would lie and pretend it never happened. I saw what happened to those girls in my high school. I knew that no one believed any of the girls who said they were raped. And I knew that admitting something like that happened would mean I would lose friends, social capital, and trust. Roughly one year later, I did just that–I didn’t tell anyone.
I know for a fact that there are many people and resources who are prepared and ready to help victims of sexual violence. However, many youth and young adults subscribe to the idea that women use rape for personal gain, and much of that idea is perpetuated by American media.
How can we ask victims and survivors to come forward, not be afraid, and tell their stories when we continue to trivialize their experience? Where are the news articles about the girls and women who survived? Where is the media asking people to step up? And where is the safety for girls and women that will speak up?
Each time we excuse media for blaming the victim and by viewing Gone Girl as just one movie, we justify the problem and we make it more difficult for victims to tell their stories.
4 “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault” http://ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf