The tone of justice: Voicing the perpetrator-as-victim in sexual assault cases

Nomi Dave


Social and legal disputes around sexual violence commonly involve a pattern in which those alleged to have committed violence instead portray themselves as victims, often successfully so. As part of the Forum on evidence and ambiguity in the Big Mouth film project, this article explores the process of legal and everyday persuasion involved in reinforcing this narrative of victimhood. In the events in Big Mouth, the survivor and her advocates film, broadcast, argue, and plead to convince others of the harm done to her, while the perpetrator repeatedly claims his own injury, including through a retaliatory lawsuit against the journalist Moussa Yéro Bah. Focusing on the perpetrator’s assertion of his own victimhood, I consider how such claims are voiced and how they interact with existing ways of listening, to perpetrators and to survivors. I draw attention to sound and listening to examine the performance of claims and the strategies by which parties in a dispute are rendered varyingly audible or inaudible to the law and the public at large.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/723679