By now, we’ve all heard about the sexual assault complaint that was filed against UF football player Treon Harris last week and later dropped by the accuser.
We’ll never know why the complaint was dropped — whether the accuser decided to drop the charges because her allegations were false or if she was pressured into dropping true allegations. The truth of the matter will remain unknown unless either party clears the air for the public or further investigation causes new facts to emerge.
In the immediate aftermath of the allegations against Harris, UF students and the national media praised university administrators for their quick suspension of Harris. Commentators expressed pride and satisfaction that the institution was prioritizing students’ safety and well-being over reputation and a successful football season.
The conversation took a nasty turn on Friday, though, with the announcement that the complaint had been dropped. The public began to strike up a harmful discourse that sought to condemn the accuser of falsely accusing Harris of sexual assault.
For example, one Facebook status from a UF student that found its way onto my news feed said that because of her indecisive act of filing and then dropping charges, the accuser was probably “asking for it.”
It’s disturbing that, in the wake of UF’s first ever Sexual Assault Awareness Week, there are still people walking this campus who think any woman at any time could be asking for her own assault.
As former Alligator Sports Editor Adam Lichtenstein wrote in an online blog post, we have to dig deeper to understand why victims of sexual assault do not report crimes against them or decide not to follow through with complaints they do file.
Rape culture is an ugly feature of our society that stems from misogyny and can keep victims fearful of coming forward. The risk of having your entire sexual history explored daunts many people from even reporting their assaults. The questioning of one’s character that happens after someone reports an assault can be a traumatizing time as well: Being asked questions that serve to establish whether they were asking for it can lead many people to drop charges in a desperate attempt of self-preservation.
The next time you hear about charges being dropped, understand that a complaint being dropped is not synonymous with a false accusation. The two are very different, and there are several complicated reasons — all of which relate to the stigma surrounding sexual assault fostered within American society — that might explain why a person would drop charges, even if they are true.
It’s not OK to make false allegations against anyone, especially of sexual assault. Accusing someone of sexual assault can hurt their credibility tremendously and have negative long-term effects on their reputation. I’m not advocating for the swift incarceration of anyone who has sexual assault charges brought against them because false accusations do occur.
What I’m pushing for is an end to discussions that paint accusers as people who were asking for it. Let’s clear up one thing right now: No person is asking to be assaulted or abused. Ever.
It doesn’t matter what clothes they were wearing, or if they had been drinking, or if they have a large list of past sexual partners.
The effort many have spent trying to paint the accuser as someone who had it coming would be much better spent trying to prevent and discourage acts of sexual assault that are still ubiquitous in our society.
TehQuin Forbes is a UF sociology junior. His column appears on Mondays.
[A version of this story ran on page 6 on 10/13/2014]