Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault in broad terms
The star of the current season of “The Bachelor”, Colton Underwood, recently appeared at a public event. Before having the chance to greet multiple fans who had been waiting in line for a photo, he abruptly left. The reason? Later, he posted on his Instagram that he was touched inappropriately. He did not elaborate who or specify if there was more than one assaulter.
The reactions I have heard to this incident seem to trend towards sympathy, praise for him taking a stand, and condemnation of the assailant(s). That is exactly way that any of us should react to hearing this story. I haven’t run into too many opinions that he “overreacted” or is “making it up.” I believe Underwood, but why do we seem so quick to support him, when women often face doubt when they report sexual harassment? Why do we believe men over women?
In fairness, if I look long enough, I’m sure that I’ll find someone online who victim-blames Underwood for what occurred, or who outright says nothing happened. However, if you Google “Colton Underwood lying assault,” the first few pages of results aren’t even about what happened to him – they’re about one of the contestants on “The Bachelor” who revealed she was assaulted. It doesn’t look like a significant number of people doubt his story. Which, of course, is a good thing. However, contrast that with what many female survivors of assault experience.
The #MeToo Movement
Women who make allegations of sexual misconduct often face a great deal of negativity. People doubt them, or accuse them of wanting fame and fortune. Around a dozen women accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault before 2014, but he continued to work and amass honorary degrees from various universities. That same year, comedian Hannibal Buress mentioned the rumors in his stand up act. It lead to media scrutiny and dozens more women coming forward with their stories. Did a man have to make the accusations before the story caught on in the news? Though Cosby’s wife may have recently left him, he has had plenty of defenders. Sixty women had to made their trauma public before Cosby faced any real consequences.
Look at the recent famous sexual assault cases that have been part of the #metoo movement. Some of them seem to need the involvement of a man before society at large believes the story. Harvey Weinstein: brought down by a New Yorker article written by Ronan Farrow. Kevin Spacey: disgraced after accusations of sexual misconduct by actor Anthony Rapp. These were two of the earliest accusations, and they seemed to open the floodgates for the rest.
Is She Lying?
Studies suggest that only 2 to 10 percent of reported rapes are actually false accusations. By some estimates, around 90 percent of assaults are never reported. This means that the actual number of false reports is likely pretty minuscule. You don’t have to look very hard to see examples of female victims accused of making up their story. Would we have believed Brock Turner’s victim if two men hadn’t happened to witness the assault? Are we more likely to believe men because we think no man would ever admit to experiencing something as horrifying as sexual assault unless it was true? Or do we believe them because they are men?
What This Means for Men
Back to Colton Underwood. Perhaps the reason people believe him is because of the #metoo movement. Society now seems more willing to accept that people of both genders can experience sexual harassment and assault. This is a good thing – men shouldn’t suffer in silence, feeling emasculated or alone if they are victims. But while we are lifting them up, we must examine why we may be reluctant to extend the same treatment to female victims. We can do better for all of us, men and women.