Sexual Assault Victims Often Face More Backlash Than Their Accusers


Rex Orange County was charged with six counts of sexual assault. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Ava Carreiro, Digital Producer

The rise of the #MeToo movement and cancel culture conjure up contrasting concepts: unity and division, healing and damage, progress and setbacks. However controversial sexual assault allegations in the public eye may become, we must treat them with the severity that they deserve.

Every 68 seconds, a person in the United States is sexually assaulted, according to data from the Department of Justice. While the majority of celebrities and high-ranking officials seem to be able to continue with their careers relatively unscathed post-sexual assault allegations, the same does not stand true for their victims. 

Sexual assault leaves a lifelong mark on many who it affects. 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder in the two weeks following the assault and 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide. Although some perpetrators’ careers are rightfully affected by their accusations and convictions, it remains a very small percentage of perpetrators, and the consequences are often delayed.

On Oct. 10, singer Rex Orange County was charged with six counts of sexual assault and will stand trial on Jan. 3, 2023. A statement was issued on his behalf, saying that he is “shocked by the allegations which he denies and is looking forward to clearing his name in court.” This is a pattern that keeps on repeating: A-List celebrities and people in esteemed positions of power headlining articles with accusations of sexual assault. 

By now, most of us are familiar with the downfall of R. Kelly, the former R&B singer convicted of 13 counts of sex crimes, including child pornography. 

This string of predatory behaviors lasted for decades. In 1994, 27-year-old Kelly married a 15-year-old girl. It marked the beginning of his history of child exploitation. Over the next 10 years came a slew of lawsuits from handfuls of young girls, almost all below the age of 18 at the time of Kelly’s crimes.

In 2002 he was charged for creating videos in which he would sexually abuse children. During the six years that it took for these cases to come to trial, Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” album was released and performed exceptionally well. He was even nominated for a NAACP award, all while having these grave accusations against him. 

The destruction of R. Kelly was a process that lasted three decades — 30 years of children begging to be heard, fighting for justice unsuccessfully and being silenced by Kelly’s hush money, court settlements and posted bail. The world went on, his victims grew from children into women, all while he continued to amass fortune and fame.

Thankfully, R. Kelly has since been held accountable for his actions. Nonetheless, his repercussions came far too late. Many celebrities and people in power are able to advance in their careers after being accused of sexual assault, while their victims are stuck reliving their trauma for the rest of their lives.

There is no word strong enough to describe how it must feel to watch your assaulter move up in their career while the world knows what they did to you. Now imagine them becoming a United States Supreme Court Justice. 

That hypothetical is a reality for Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward in 2018 with her accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh. While Kavanugh now serves in the highest court of the country, Ford has to endure thousands of death threats and harassment for coming forward.

Ford’s credibility has no right being argued over. Aside from passing a polygraph exam, she also had four witnesses who she had opened up to over a span of 15 years regarding the incident, all before making her allegations public. She had told her husband in 2002 that she was sexually assaulted and in couples’ therapy identified her attacker as Brett Kavanaugh. 

More than 10 years later, she confided in a close friend regarding how she was “almost raped by someone who is now a federal judge.” In 2016, Ford told another friend that the man who assaulted her was President Trump’s top pick for a Supreme Court nominee.

The rhetoric that Ford has faced as a result is nothing less than revolting. According to Ford’s lawyer, “in the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has … been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats.” At one point, her email was hacked, and her family was forced to relocate outside of their home.

No matter what Ford did to prove her honesty, she remained the target of relentless verbal abuse. This is where the problem lies: For some, it doesn’t matter how truthful a person’s story is — they are devoted to harassing victims into silence. They will find reasons to invalidate the experiences of (primarily) women, often with their reasonings deeply rooted in misogyny. 

We’ve all heard the saying before: “boys will be boys.” While victims of sexual assault in the United States are 91% female and 9% male, nearly 99% of perpetartors are men. Yet male perpetrators are given the benefit of the doubt while their female victims often are not offered that same opportunity.

The accusations against Rex Orange County, R. Kelly and Brett Kavanaugh are among many similar instances operating in a vicious cycle. When a woman comes forward accusing a male celebrity or high-ranking official of sexual assault, excuses are made for the male perpetrator while their female victims bear the brunt of the ruthless backlash that should be directed toward their aggressors.

The careers of perpetrators are not affected nearly enough. The consequences that R. Kelly faced were few and far between. We live in a world where a viable testimony, numerous witnesses and multiple victims are not enough to prevent an alleged abuser from being appointed to the highest court in the nation. 

Some argue that accusations haphazardly ruin reputations and that accused perpetrators face online harassment and death threats too. The key difference is that victims have to relive their trauma by coming forward and are usually persecuted much harsher than their assaulter for doing so. Although harassment is never tolerable, it is false to imply that the backlash that victims and their accused perpetrators face is one and the same.

Ava Carreiro, GSB ’24, is a marketing major from New Providence, N.J.