[This post includes a discussion about allegations of sexual assault and sexual violence more generally]
The original allegations
On January 1st, Armie Hammer tweeted “2021 is going to kneel down before me and kiss my feet...” Just ten days later he was trending on twitter following serious allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct including rape accusations. The main accuser, known as Effie, released multiple screenshots of alleged conversations with the actor along with her accusations. Within these screenshots were some harrowing conversations including one about cannibalism. One would expect the most popular tweets following these accusations to be those trying to hold him accountable and messages of support for the women. Instead the accusation that Hammer had been emotionally, sexually, and physically abusive got lost behind the comedic response to the disturbing screenshots.
Later allegations and the responseFollowing the early allegations, at least three women who Hammer had been publicly linked to, ended up speaking out as well. Even given the seriousness and breadth of accusations against Hammer, the coverage has not reflected the weight of the accusations. For example, ENews broke a story where Paige Lorenze, talked about how she “knew that [she] just need[ed] to get out” of her relationship with Hammer because he was “definitely controlling” and dangerous, with a caption saying “Armie Hammer’s ex, Paige Lorenze, is coming forward with detail about their ‘polyamorous’ relationship.”
Injustice, knowledge, and communication
This disappointing coverage is in part due to a broader injustice in how we talk about and understand rape. In 2007, Miranda Fricker coined the term epistemic injustice. Epistemic injustice is when prejudicial beliefs keep us from seeing people as reliable sources of knowledge. Because an integral part of being human is the ability to gather and share knowledge, these actions deny people some part of their humanity.
One subset of this brand of injustice is called hermeneutical injustice. This occurs when “some significant area of one’s social experience is obscured from collective understanding.” When this type of injustice occurs people lack the language to communicate their own experiences and others lack the concepts and interpretive tools to understand those experiences. As such, these people's experiences are often minimized, misunderstood, or erased.
Rape myths as an example of injustice
The broad acceptance of rape myths is an example of this injustice. The false beliefs about who rapes, what rape looks like, and how someone should respond to rape hinder our ability to understand sexual violence. Rape myths cause people to operate under false conceptions of sexual violence, and people’s real experiences are measured against these faulty concepts. As such when people hear accusations of rape, the pervasiveness of these rape myths causes people to minimize, dismiss, or miscategorize experiences of sexual violence. This has real consequences. In fact, researchers have found that the more accepted rape myths are by jurors, the less likely an accused rapist is to be convicted. These same myths work in a similar way to obscure the understanding around these women's accusations against Hammer.
Myth 1: Rape as a consequence of promiscuity
The first myth that is causing injustice by perpetuating misunderstanding is the myth that promiscuity can be equated with consent. This myth suggests that promiscuous women always want sex, and conversely, only pure women deserve protection. This myth especially works to obscure Effie’s experience. Effie is open about her sexual relationships, talks about stripping, and was also involved in a BDSM relationship with Hammer. Because people have accepted that this type of promiscuous behavior implies consent, it becomes easy for people to obfuscate Hammer’s actions instead of taking seriously her claims of abuse.
This can be seen in especially the early coverage where many articles did not center Effie’s accusations at all and instead explained the situation as simply kink on Hammer's part. In fact, multiple publications have still used kink as an explanation for the situation. People see her actions as implying consent, and instead focus on conversations of kink that assume her consent because they are using a faulty conception of rape, specifically regarding sexual violence perpetrated against promiscuous women. Because her experience is being misunderstood and diminished based on faulty collective concepts, this is an example of hermeneutical injustice.
Myth 2: Rape only occurs if there is violent physical force
Another rape myth that perpetuates this injustice is the myth that sexual violence only occurs if there is violent force. This myth is so pervasive that it used to be codified into law by requiring that victims show sufficient force on the part of the attacker and also in trying to get away in order for an experience to legally constitute rape. The reality is much more nuanced. Manipulation, which is not always paired with physical force, is an important aspect of the coercion that precipitates sexual abuse.
Manipulation is present in many of the stories about Hammer. For example, Courtney Vucekovich described an experience where Hammer convinced her to participate in “a bondage ceremony that [she] was not comfortable with” by being “cold and angry.” Eventually she said that she consented but “really regretted doing so.” Paige Lorenze spoke to a similar dynamic when she said that “consenting to something... that you don’t really want to do... can be really traumatizing.” Both women talked about eventually agreeing to do things they didn’t really want to do, but because that does not match the faulty conception of sexual violence always including physical force, the publication goes on to describe the relationships as “messy” instead of abusive.
Rape myths continue to provide people with faulty conceptions of rape. These faulty conceptions are then used as the measuring stick for what counts as rape. As such, experiences and accusations are taken less seriously because people are asking the wrong questions. This can be seen in the Hammer situation as people minimized and discounted these women's accusations.