The Hart of the Matter: A woman’s word versus a man’s word

By Lily Hartenstein

Thanks to victim blaming, rape culture and our society’s general distrust of women, taking down a man who has sexually abused someone is a nearly impossible feat. That is, if you’re a woman.

Society values the word of a man significantly more than the word of a woman, an issue indicative of the sexist tendencies of our culture as a whole.

Illustration by Lily Hartenstein

It took over 50 women to take down Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and over 60 female accusers to bring Bill Cosby to trial. At least 16 women spoken out about President Trump sexually harassing them during the 2016 presidential race, yet he still won the election.

Even abusers who are not famous can easily get away with acts of sexual assault or harassment. According to a mass study by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which collected data from the Department of Justice and the FBI, 99.4 percent of perpetrators of rape go without convictions. This is because only 31 percent of such crimes are reported, only 5.7 percent of cases lead to arrest and only 0.6 percent of cases lead to incarceration.

Essentially, if you are a woman and a victim of sexual assault or harassment, there is a very low chance anything will be done about such an atrocity unless you have a couple dozen fellow victims by your side.

However, women are not the only victims of sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, roughly one in ten rape victims are male. The U.S. Department of Justice predicts that only 20 percent of male rape victims report their abuse, and that only included male victims of ages 12 or above. The reason even fewer males victims come out about sexual assault is due to the social stigma regarding men and rape, tied into notions of toxic masculinity and homophobia.

However, should a male overcome such social barriers and come out publicly with an accusation, especially against a male abuser, they are much more likely to be believed.

Take the case of Kevin Spacey, a large public figure with a similar scale of fame to Cosby and Weinstein. One male came out against Spacey, actor Anthony Rapp, about attempted sexual assault. Instantly Spacey’s hugely successful career, came under fire. Since then, more actors have spoken to Spacey’s aggressive advances towards them, but it took the word one of person to bring Spacey’s empire crumbling down.

Spacey absolutely deserved every criticism and punishment he has recieved since the allegations of Rapp, and then some. However, it should be noted the differences in Spacey’s case as compared to cases such as Weinstein or Cosby.

Where it takes upwards of 40 women to bring a male perpetrator under fire, it only takes one man’s word. This indicates the massive disparity of how society values the word of a man to the word of a woman.

Of course, the Spacey scandal is not exactly the same as the Weinstein or Cosby scandals. While all revolve around rich, famous male perpetrators, Spacey was accused of assaulting children, as Rapp said that Spacey attempted to assault him when he was 14 years old. Perhaps the age of the victim is the determinant here, instead of gender.

In that case, an accusation of sexual assault on a young girl should lead to similar instant outrage and the death of the aggressor’s career. However, if we look at past cases of the sexual abuse against girls, this is not the case.

Take R&B singer R Kelly for example. Kelly was accused by Jerhonda Pace for statutory rape and physical abuse when she was 16 years old. Previously, Kelly had gone to court regarding the creation of child pornography, a case in which he was acquitted. This should only have helped Pace, as Kelly was not only accused of sexually assaulting a minor, but had a history of being accused of pedophillia.

Yet, Kelly’s career has remained relatively unscathed. Very little public coverage of the accusations was shown, especially in comparison to the media blowout in the wake of Weinstein’s scandal.

Age is not the deciding difference between the Weinstein, Cosby and countless other cases of sexual assault in Hollywood and beyond compared to the Spacey scandal. Instead, the prime difference is gender, highlighting the huge bias society has towards the word of a man versus the word of a woman.