“She took decades to come forward. She can’t remember exactly what happened. She sent friendly text messages to the same man she says assaulted her. She didn’t fight back. There are all sorts of reasons women who report sexual misconduct, from unwanted advances by their bosses to groping or forced sex acts, are not believed, and with a steady drumbeat of new reports making headlines, the country is hearing a lot of them.” S. Dewan, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“But some of the most commonly raised causes for doubt, like a long delay in reporting or a foggy recall of events, are the very hallmarks that experts say they would expect to see after a sexual assault.
‘There’s something really unique about sexual assault in the way we think about it, which is pretty upside down from the way it actually operates,’ said Kimberly A. Lonsway, a psychologist who conducts law enforcement training on sexual assault as the research director of End Violence Against Women International. ‘In so many instances when there’s something that is characteristic of assault, it causes us to doubt it.’
Partly this is because of widespread misconceptions. The public and the police vastly overestimate the incidence of false reports: The most solid, case-by-case examinations say that only 5 to 7 percent of sexual assault reports are false.
And when it comes to the most serious assaults, like rape, people imagine that they are committed by strangers who attack in a dark alley, and base their view of how victims should react on that idea — even though the vast majority of assaults occur between people who know one another…Of course, not every allegation is true.
The credibility of those who report sexual misconduct, experts say, should be evaluated by looking for corroborating evidence or using relevant parts of accusers’ backgrounds, like whether they have habitually misrepresented the truth in the past.
Here is a look at some of the misconceptions that come up again and again when assessing whether a victim’s account is true.
The victim doesn’t act like one.
There is no one response to sexual assault. A trauma victim can as easily appear calm or flat as distraught or overtly angry. Later, they may react by self-medicating, by engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, by withdrawing from those around them or by attempting to regain control…It is no surprise that a teenager conditioned to use ‘likes’ as a measure of self-esteem would turn to social media to deal with post-traumatic stress, said Veronique Valliere, a psychologist who counsels sexual assault perpetrators and victims and consults with the military and law enforcement.
Her story does not add up.
Andrea Constand, whose complaint that Bill Cosby drugged and raped her resulted in a criminal trial more than a decade later, was questioned on many fronts. One was discrepancies in her statements about when the assaults occurred…Rebecca Campbell, a psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied the institutional response to sexual assault victims, compares the recall of a survivor to hundreds of tiny notes that are scattered across a desk. The bits of information may be accurate, but disordered and incomplete. Yet the first questions asked of victims are often who, what, when and where.
She didn’t fight back.
When people are mugged or robbed, they are not asked why they did not resist. But in sexual assault cases, failure to resist can be one of the biggest sticking points for jurors. Often both sides acknowledge that a sex act occurred, and the question is whether it was consensual. Fighting back is viewed as an easy litmus test. Men and women both tend to compare a victim’s actions with what they think they themselves would have done in a similar situation, and research shows that their imagined response usually involves aggressive resistance — even when the attacker is larger and stronger. ‘In their heads, suddenly they know kung fu,’ Ms. Valliere said…To contrast sexual assault with other types of crime, Ms. Valliere said, she often shows a photograph of the Boston Marathon bombing. ‘We never said to the victims, ‘Why were you in that marathon, why did you put yourself in that position, why didn’t you run faster, why didn’t you run slower?’ ‘But when it comes to a victim of interpersonal violence,’ she added, ‘we think there’s a way they should act.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students generate ideas or words that may be connected to the topic. As a class, list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Neurobiological research has shown that many victims go through fight-or-flight response to danger.
- There are many widespread misconceptions.
- People respond differently to trauma.
- Some people question the credibility of the victims.
- Victims also distinguish between what is safe and what isn’t.
- Offenders often encourage confusion and shame.
- Experts point to more fundamental issues.
- Confusion and self-blame are common in victims.
- A lot of people who call the national hotline for help.
- Some offenders camouflage the act as horseplay or humor.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Experts/expect say that because money/many people are not psychologically prepared to accept/except how prevalent harassment and asset/assault are, they tend/tire to look for reasons to disbelieve. For example, offenders are more likely to choose/chose victims who have been previously assaulted, statistics show, but a man/woman who reports more than one assault is less likely to be believed.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
“Victims think that it was their___, so in many ___they want continued contact,” said Roderick MacLeish, a ___lawyer who ___represented ___of victims of abuse by___priests and schoolteachers. And then ___they realize that it was for the perpetrator’s sexual gratification, and that’s devastating.”
WORD LIST: later Catholic, Boston, hundreds, has, cases, fault,
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group compose a letter or note to a person mentioned in the article telling her/him their thoughts on the topic. Share the letters as a class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.