why don’t we believe the victim?

too hard to believe cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
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If you are a victim of assault you will automatically find yourself in an adversarial position. I talk about this a lot because it is prevalent in the church. But so many people find it hard to believe so they don’t. How can such a nice person do such a thing? How can such a thing happen right under our noses?

My daughter was bullied in University, but because she was assaulted by two popular young woman in such an aggressive way it was hard to get anyone’s ear that would even entertain the possibility that such an insane thing could happen. Finally an officer, female, took Casile’s report of bullying so seriously that she did something about it and the harassment ceased immediately.

Joseph Mengele, the German SS officer and physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, was quoted as saying to the Jewish prisoners,

“The more we do to you, the less you seem to believe we are doing it.”

Žižek, in Less Than Nothing, asks if it is impossible to do a documentary on the Holocaust because you can’t reduce such horror to a factual account. He also asks if it is impossible to write a novel about the Holocaust because you can’t fictionalize such horrible facts. But perhaps only fiction can report the atrocity while at the same time buffering its horrific reality with story.

So Žižek suggests that,

“At this level, truth is no longer something that depends on the faithful reproduction of facts. One should introduce here the difference between (factual) truth and truthfulness: what makes a report of a raped woman (or any other narrative of a trauma) truthful is its very factual unreliability, confusion, inconsistency. If the victim were able to report on her painful and humiliating experience in a clear way, with all the data arranged into a consistent order of exposition, this very quality would make us suspicious. The same holds true for the unreliability of the verbal reports given by Holocaust survivors: a witness who was able to offer a clear narrative of his camp experience would thereby disqualify himself.”

What this means is that the intensity of emotion, the flurry of confusing facts, and their shocking unbelievability is perhaps the best representation of what happened, the best reflection, the best witness. It is the traumatic event bleeding over into its traumatic report that should make it truthful.

In the movie This is 40, Pete and Debbie are brought before the principal because Debbie is accused of verbally abusing Catherine’s son. Which she did! Pete and Debbie remain calm while Catherine so completely loses it trying to get some justice for her son that she makes herself completely unbelievable and Pete and Debbie are believed.

I see this happening every day and I hear about it all the time. The stories are just so unbelievable that they aren’t believed. Even writers of small blogs call out abuses, errors, assumptions and biases, but because their claims against popular people are just too unbelievable they are dismissed.

The remedy? Listen. Investigate. Report. And believe that anyone is capable of anything.

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  • This is your best post yet.

  • ooo darn! another bar! but thanks 🙂

  • Pat68

    “The remedy? Listen. Investigate. Report. And believe that anyone is capable of anything.”


  • erikcampano

    “Anyone is capable of anything.” Including popular clerics. People want to believe in the goodness of their pastor/rabbi/whomever, and will defend them blindly when accused of sexual assault. But in fact, it’s incredibly common among clerics. And because religious communities in the United States don’t have strong sexual assault response policies, like schools and companies, they aren’t held accountable. The only check-and-balance seems to be public exposure.

  • Wow. That’s awesome!

    I was at the park yesterday and witnessed a woman verbally assaulting a 4 year old, obscenities and all, that wasn’t even hers. The mother had contacted the police on several occasions (it happens regularly) but it had always been ‘what she said and what she said’.
    I was able to give them a clear idea of the abuse and now they are able to take a step forward in solving the problem.


  • Glen

    “The remedy? Listen. Investigate. Report. And believe that anyone is capable of anything.” Yes, yes, yes. Especially the last part. I know a man whose niece accused her brother of abusing her kids. The man was completely willing to believe his niece’s testimony – until she claimed that she herself had been abused by her father, the man’s brother. The man at that point refused to believe a word she said, because he thought there was no way his brother was capable of that. That was over 20 years ago; it was only in recent years that the man learned of more accusations against his nephew, and was forced to deal with the probability that his brother, and his nephew, had done what they’d been accused of. But most of the family took the side of the accused nephew, and there was an awful split in the family, because “he could not possibly have done something like that.”

  • Shary Hauber

    You have no idea how much this is appreciated by those who have been abused. We can’t understand why we are not believed. Why we are told it is in the past forget it. Abuse of a child become part of who he/she is. We are told not only do we not tell the truth but the life we live is a lie. Thank you.

  • I agree 100%.

  • klhayes

    “Anyone is capable of anything.”

    I think that statement is the stumbling block. I think it is hard for many to believe that people do such horrific things. So the victim must have done something to cause it.

  • Yes. This.