A woman’s word is enough


Illustration by Brittany England/The Pioneer

Elizabeth Avalos,
Staff Writer

Although rape and sexual assault are alive and present in today’s world, justice systems and society continue to distrust the courageous women who speak out against their attackers.

The recent civil lawsuit filed by singer and songwriter Kesha against producer Lukasz Gottwald on allegations of sexual and emotional abuse, and the current sexual assault trial of radio host Jian Ghomeshi in Canada, are both examples of how difficult it remains for female victims to speak up against their abusers. These two controversial cases highlight how justice systems continue to fail to protect the women they are supposed to defend and how women continue to be told that their word is not enough.

Before being offered justice and support, women must first undergo the burdensome task to prove that their perpetrator abused them, while they experience high levels of doubt on behalf of justice systems and society.

In Kesha’s case, the judge refused to allow the pop star to walk away from her six-album contract with Sony Records. It was ruled that she no longer has to work with Dr. Luke directly, however, Kesha is concerned that Sony will not back her music if she collaborates with another producer.

Despite her confession that she felt her life would be at risk if she continued to work with Gottwald, Kesha was not granted freedom because nullifying her contract would undermine the state’s laws that govern them, according to Shirley Kornreich, the Manhattan Supreme Court Judge who handled her case. 

Canadian musician, writer and former radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi faces four sexual assault accusations that date back to 2002. In this trial, his defense lawyer pulled up decade-old emails of one of the accusers reaching out to Ghomeshi, as if her messages are sufficient evidence to validate his abuse over her.

As a young woman who lives in a digital age, this claim raises extreme concerns. How is it that an email, online or social media message that I send today could potentially prevent me from being granted justice, or even worse, serve as justification for a crime done unto me in the future?

According to the Center for Family Justice, statistics indicate that one out of every four women are abused in their lifetime, but only 28 percent of those victims report their abuse to the police and of those reported and only two percent of the alleged assaults prove to be false.

Although one in every four women will become victims, it remains infuriatingly difficult for justice systems and society to trust the women who speak up against their perpetrators and offer them the justice they deserve.

As a young woman, Kesha’s legal battle with Gottwald extends far beyond a battle for musical freedom and speaks volumes about how lightly a woman’s voice echoes inside the walls of courtrooms in this country.   

Today, a victim’s trauma does not end when the assault ends. Instead, the trauma continues as people question whether the woman was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or wearing revealing and provocative clothing during the time of her assault, as if this were to justify the crime. In some cases, the abused woman’s past is also brought up to determine whether her allegations should be taken seriously or negated.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines rape as forced sexual intercourse on a psychological and physical level, and includes verbal threats. Furthermore, they define sexual assault as a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape and state that it may or may not involve force. Although the Bureau of Justice Statistics has provided clear definitions of what rape and sexual assault are, they fail to acknowledge that the ability to prove rape or sexual assault allegations remain a nearly impossible task to accomplish, for men and women alike.

According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, “out of every 100 instances of rape, only 7 lead to an arrest and only 3 are referred to prosecutors.”

Regardless of whether you are a well-known celebrity or just an average college student, having the legitimacy of your experience questioned must feel like a slap in the face.

The current justice system under which these two cases fall is nearly designed for the victim to lose her case every single time. Neither Kesha nor Ghomeshi’s four accusers have the option to visit their doctors to request proof of their abuse, nor are they in possession of photo or video evidence. Most times, the only thing a woman has is her testimony, which is comprised of her experience and her memory. In a court of law, this will rarely ever suffice.

Unfortunately, this is the reality of thousands of women around the world. The burden of having to prove that a woman was raped or assaulted can discourage women from speaking out against their perpetrators. This is why Kesha and Ghomeshi’s victims’ cases are about more than just these five women; they represent all women.

Watching Kesha and Ghomeshi’s accusers share their experiences could be that extra push that many women need to finally speak up against their abusers too. But, justice systems need to do their part as well, otherwise women having built the courage to expose their stories will have been for nothing and offenders will remain free. One good place to start would be to make women feel heard and understood when they come forward, rather than doubted and questioned.