Society is built by relationships. We enter the world and build relationships with our family or people around us. We grow and our network expands to people at school and eventually our workplace. We develop social interests and connect with others there as well. There is a level of social trust that happens with each relationship. It can be gained and lost but it also can be rebuilt. Relationships are built on whom we know someone to be. We will have closer relationships with those you trust more and distance from those you don’t.
We build a narrative about someone based on our observations and experiences. If you ask me about my friends I will tell you my perception of them and whom I know them to be. I will believe my perception of that person to be true. So what happens when your perception of someone and mine do not align? I will deny your perception to be true and default to what I believe to be true, BUT does that actually mean that my perception is true? This is a critical question we have to ask ourselves rather than automatically defaulting to our truth because not asking the question is destroying people and allowing predators to continue to consume at will.
I just watched the Netflix documentary on Bikram Choudhury and he is a perfect example of someone whom people perceive to be one way, but the truth is contrary. He’s far from being the only one. I recently read about Jerry Sandusky who was given awards and accolades for his work with young people as well as Larry Nassar. All three of these people were well known and respected in their fields but behind closed doors they are predators. This truth contradicts how many people knew them to be.
I walked alongside a young woman who was assaulted. I saw the bruises on her body. Her predator was a friend of the family she was living with and when confronted by police they chose to hinder the police investigation because their perception of him was contrary to someone who would hurt a teenage girl, but that didn’t make it less true. Another book I read gave the story of a teenage girl who was preyed upon by her high school teacher. When it went to trial the prosecution put girls on the stand who were more popular and prettier than she was as if to present an argument that if he had not preyed on these girls then why would he prey on one less pretty and less popular? He too had won awards for his teaching efforts with young people. Very few believed her story that their perceptions of his capabilities were wrong.
When I was raped as a teenager one of the reasons I did not come forward at that time was because I did not think anyone would believe me. My rapist was popular and social. Prettier and more popular girls than me voluntarily slept with him and I believed that no one would believe me if I said I hadn’t wanted to. I did not have enough power or position to influence their perceptions of him.
We have to remember that our perceptions are ONLY what the other person lets us see. It may not be the whole truth. We do not want to think someone we know is capable of horrible things, but sometimes they are. A man whom our community believed to be a caring and loving father murdered his own wife and children. It was not until we were confronted with cold hard facts in our face that we would budge on our perception of whom we believed him to be and what he was capable of.
This is why organizations like UN Women are tweeting “Believe Her”
Believing her doesn’t mean we forgo a proper judicial system, but it means we are open to our perceptions being wrong and entering into that process to determine the truth.