To the University of Michigan Community,
As survivors and advocates, we have long been acutely aware of the toxic culture surrounding sexual violence and the ways in which survivors are continuously, and sometimes unintentionally, hurt by their communities. Although members of our community intend to support survivors, lately we have observed behavior that we find problematic, such as the recently-created Assaulters at UMich Twitter account.
Although most of the tweets were stories directly from survivors calling out their perpetrators, multiple tweets named a student who “falsely accused” another, when they originally requested anonymity.
Afterward, it was tweeted out, “From now on, if you submit a false allegation, your name will be exposed …” which have since been deleted or hidden.
The anonymous user running the account explained in a later tweet that they use documentation from legal proceedings to determine the truth of an allegation. There were also instances in which stories were shared by an acquaintance rather than the survivor. It is unknown if the survivors involved were aware that their assaults were tweeted out publicly. At this time, the account has been made private and non-followers can no longer access the page.
We all want to help create a supportive environment, but invalidating and rewriting a survivor’s story violates the very principle of being an ally. Survivors must be believed when they bravely step forward. To be an ally is to recognize that, while 2 to 8 percent of allegations reported to the police are false, this statistic is far lower when compared to experiences revealed to close friends which are never reported to the police.
To be an ally is to acknowledge that we have a broken justice system and a court system that further traumatizes survivors rather than uncovers the truth. Being an ally means understanding that it is far more common for survivors to go through months or years of pain and suffering, to put their lives aside, to become all-consumed by these legal processes and the pursuit of justice, only to watch their university or the court exonerate their perpetrators. For many survivors, it makes matters worse having to watch family and friends, acquaintances in their community and strangers across the country exonerate their perpetrators as well.
The results of a legal proceeding don’t reliably determine whether an assault occurred. About 0.5 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail and even fewer are ever expelled from their university. It is an ally’s responsibility to know this reality and to most importantly understand that the truth of a survivor’s experience must not be determined or defined by the evidence available in court or to the public, but rather by the trauma and everlasting memories that burden most survivors for the rest of their lives.
Perpetrators take away their victim’s autonomy over their own body and identity. As an ally, do not contribute by taking away a survivor’s autonomy over their own story. Just as survivors have a right to their own body, they have a right to choose when, how and to whom their story is shared; they have a right to leave parts out, including their own name. It is a violation of survivors’ rights to share stories without their permission and knowledge or to reveal the survivor’s name without their consent.
To all allies: you have the duty of creating a safe environment and supportive community where survivors’ voices are heard and respected. It is your job to facilitate survivors’ path to healing to help them realize and regain their own power. As an ally, it is your responsibility to not just listen and believe, but to support and empower.
To all survivors: We want you to know that you are strong, you are resilient and you are powerful. You have the right to share your story in the manner you choose and not be silenced or spoken over. We believe you, we are here for you and we stand with you.
Emma Sandberg, Ceciel Zhong, Morgan McCaul, Grace Seymour, Katelyn Roberts, Annie Mintun and Amanda Saleh all contributed to writing this open letter from Roe v. Rape, a non-profit organization. These students can be contacted at email@example.com.