In the wake of the revelations that Jussie Smollett may have fabricated the reports of a homophobic and racist attack, how should we respond to future reports of violence? It’s simple, really. Start by believing.
When a victim reports an experience of violence, there is no cost to stepping up and saying, “I believe you.” Mr. Smollett’s false allegations change nothing when it comes to how the system should work. In fact, Mr. Smollett’s case demonstrates that the system works as it should. A false report came in, the victim was, we hope, treated with empathy and support. An investigation took place. When information showed that the report was not what it seemed, law enforcement took the appropriate steps. In a system where perpetrators of violence are treated as innocent until proven guilty, survivors of sexual assault, racism, homophobia, and other violence should not be treated as guilty until proven innocent.
It remains true that false reports are few and far between. I’ll never regret responding with empathy and support to a survivor who reports abuse, even if that report turns out to be false. I will never regret continuing to believe the 98% of survivors filing police reports, despite the 2% that are false. I’ll never regret speaking up and standing beside survivors of abuse. I invite you to join me. Start by believing survivors and see what a difference it can make.