With recent attention on UVA and the Rolling Stone story, there has been a new wave of discussion about The Truth About False Accusation graphic on social media and even on the Washington Post that has compelled me write about this topic again, two years later. While I appreciate the prerogative of any journalist, blogger, or regular person to write about anything they believe is relevant to public discourse, I wanted to address directly the idea of “debunking,” “disproving,” or “correcting” the graphic itself.
Understanding the facts is really important – to me, to journalism, and to elevating dialogue on social issues. I created this graphic with my brother, an amazing and talented graphic designer, to visualize data related to sexual violence in a way that would put the fear of false accusation in context with the chances of being prosecuted for sexual assault. It was never designed to prove or disprove anything. It was simply a visual invitation to a deeper conversation on the complexities about sexual assault data.
One night, I posted the graphic on a new personal Tumblr account and by the next morning, it had been shared around the world. Dylan Matthews posted it on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Amanda Marcotte wrote a compelling analysis on Slate. As of this morning, the Tumblr post has been shared over 500,000 times, not to mention the many people who shared it on other channels.
I responded to this increased platform and publicity in the most responsible and transparent way that I could. I’ve gone out of my way to make both the intention of the graphic and the sources behind it available for all to see. They are listed on my site, and the original link for the graphic was updated immediately after it went viral so that anyone that clicks on it is directed to a lengthy explanation. Even further, there is a URL on the graphic itself for those who downloaded it and shared it independently of how it was released.
There has been so much meaning attributed to a single image. It’s “proof” that women don’t lie about sexual violence. It’s “proof” that feminists distort facts to create rape hysteria. This graphic was NEVER intended to be proof of anything. It didn’t make assertions about the rights of the accused vs. the rights of the accusers. And it certainly wasn’t designed to shut down conversation about sexual violence. It wasn’t meant to be a conclusion or even a fact. It was the start of a longer, nuanced discussion. I am just as dismayed as the next person to see this image being used to support polarizing, extreme, and destructive points of view. That’s not my style, and it’s not the kind of dialogue I want to see in the world.
Some people saw the graphic and chose to learn what was behind it. Others did not. What makes me the most sad is the people who make assumptions about my intentions, and who judge quickly without learning more. At the end of the day, I am a private citizen, a writer, a blogger. The Enliven Project is a personal project, essentially a blog. I write about nonprofit leadership, sexual violence, and parenthood because these are issues that matter to me. The Enliven Project isn’t funded – it’s a passion project I do for free.
Since the Truth About False Accusation was initially circulated, I’ve created additional visualizations and written numerous posts about all aspects of sexual violence and other issues that matter to me. I do this because I think constructive dialogue about challenging issues is critical to our health as humans and as a society. These conversations don’t happen in soundbytes, hashtags, or single images.
Journalists, nonprofit leaders, college students and private citizens like me should be telling stories like these and like these, until it doesn’t require an act of bravery to tell them anymore. I’m game for real conversation. Are you?
(And no, I will not be releasing another version of the Truth About False Accusation. I stand by the graphic and its intentions, and simply ask you to use it responsibly.)