This study sought to understand why such a large proportion of the community mistrusts women’s reports of sexual violence. It aimed to inform prevention of sexual assault by addressing key gaps in the existing literature about the broad range of beliefs, attitudes and myths that may underlie community mistrust of women’s reports of victimisation. Comprehensive understanding of the factors underlying this mistrust is crucial to debunking myths about sexual assault. It is also crucial for encouraging women to report sexual violence, supporting women on their journey through the service system, facilitating access to justice and, ultimately, reducing and preventing this violence.
This study used a mixed-methods design to take a deep dive into attitudes that mistrust women’s reports of sexual assault, involving online focus groups with 40 men and 35 women. The findings reflect the participants’ responses to questions about hypothetical sexual assault scenarios, as well as general questions about false allegations of sexual assault.
Participants took a default position of doubt and suspicion when considering a woman’s allegation of sexual assault. As a result, a range of unrealistic expectations had to be met for a woman’s allegation to be believed, while the accused man’s actions to gain or confirm consent were rarely scrutinised. For example, the participants questioned whether or not the woman was explicit enough when she said 'no' to sex, whether she could show she had physical injuries from the assault, and whether she had an ulterior motive for reporting the assault, such as covering up consensual sex because she was ashamed. This mistrust drew on inaccurate myths and gendered stereotypes and contrasts starkly with the fact that false allegations of sexual assault are extremely rare.
The researchers list a range of reforms, initiatives and education campaigns that could help inform Australians about the reality of sexual assault and help prevent the violence in the first place.