When Rape Victims Get Caught Smiling (We Won't Believe Them)

Here's a crucial tip for not becoming a toxic monster of a human being: If someone says they've been through an awful or traumatic experience, don't reply with, "Well, you don't seem very upset!" This, for example, is one of the foundations of the Sandy Hook shooting conspiracy theories (insisting that the grieving parents were wearing too much makeup or seemed too upbeat in interviews). But it's not only crazy people who leap to this grossly illogical conclusion. Just ask any victim of sexual harassment or assault.

One of this month's big stories concerns how Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, has alleged that she was sexually harassed by network head and left-wing boogieman Roger Ailes.

Wesley Mann/Fox News
Try to imagine this guy saying something sexual and it not sounding like harassment.

To deflect her accusations, Fox News publicized several letters Carlson wrote Ailes in which she sounded grateful and happy with her job. The obvious insinuation is that, if she'd really felt harassed, she would've written a sadder letter.

Fox News
"Why aren't there any water spots from her tears falling on the paper?"

Make no mistake, they're going with that strategy because it works, and it works because the "doesn't seem upset enough" fallacy is so pervasive. During a sexual assault trial in Wales, the accused rapist's defense rested on the fact that the victim smiled and laughed before the attack. In England, another lawyer used the old "She's smiled in Facebook pictures taken since the incident, so it can't have been rape, can it?" defense.

Here's a story about a Malaysian flight attendant whose alleged rapist defended himself by saying that she was "smiling and seemed happy" afterward. There was even a point in time when Julian Assange, the Wikileaks guy, tried to defend himself against allegations of rape by showing the court smiling pictures of his victim.

The Daily Mail

On some level, everyone making that accusation has to know how strange it is, unless they're aliens wearing human skin as a disguise. You've never found yourself swimming through a shit-swamp of depression, but still smiled your way through a family member's birthday party or wedding? You've never suppressed your rage at a boss, knowing that an outburst could get you fired? Never put on a smile and acted chipper to try to defuse someone you were genuinely afraid of? Humans learn to fake emotion when they're two freaking years old. It's not much later that we learn to smile in photos.

And no, we don't hold other traumatic experiences to the same standards. Soldiers and cops are expected to joke about the dark, terrifying things they see on the job. But if a rape victim seems too upbeat, hospitals treat them with suspicion. As this cop recalls, police officers often discount accusations if the alleged victim seems too calm, or laughs, or otherwise doesn't act how they think a rape victim "should" act. "Why, it's almost as if this woman has spent her life having strangers remind her to smile!"

If you have any doubt about how common this is, note that we found all the examples in this article with about 10 minutes of lazy Googling. We also found this delightful little slice of madness:

The Fraudulent Elizabeth Smart

Yes, it's an entire website arguing that Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped at age 14, held for nine months and raped three to four times daily by an insane street preacher, was fakin' it. The crux of his argument is, you guessed it, that the then-15-year-old Smart was photographed smiling at some point on the same day she testified about her rape. Surely, any true victim would freeze her face into a mask of sorrow for every single moment thereafter.

Oh, and it turns out that part of Bill Cosby's defense against one of the victims revolves around the fact that she didn't seem too upset with him a few days later. (She even handed him a gift!) We're sure Cosby's lawyers are now hard at work tracking down every laughing Facebook photo they can find for each of his 57 accusers. And here's where we should probably point out that at least six women besides Gretchen Carlson have alleged that Roger Ailes sexually harassed them. We hope none of them smiled recently.

So please don't do this. It's bad news in general to assume that everyone shows grief, gratitude, or love the same way -- or that one person even shows things the same way from one occasion to the next. Call us cynical, but if somebody dismisses sexual assault claims because the victim fails to perform the exact right facial expressions in the aftermath, we're thinking they might have an ulterior motive.

For more reasons rape is even worse for victims than you thought, check out 8 Ways The Legal System Screws Rape Victims (Like Me) and 5 Bizarre Realities Of Being A Man Who Was Raped By A Woman.

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Robert Evans

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