In light of the recent accusations against Republican Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, there has been a public outcry to end the silence that is expected of sexual assault survivors.
In case you haven’t been following the Kavanaugh news, here’s what is going on: In July 2018, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of attorney Brett Kavanaugh for the high court. Later that month, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, research psychologist and psychology professor in California, sent a letter to the top Democrat serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein. Ford alleged in that letter that Kavanaugh had attempted to sexually assault her at a house party when they were in high school. Confirmation hearings were set — the FBI did not initially investigate or have plans to since the statute of limitations on the assault had passed years earlier.
When the story came to light in an article by The New Yorker Sept. 14, Kavanaugh responded, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
The Judiciary Committee pushed forward with their goal of voting and — only after much public backlash — agreed to hold a hearing on Sept. 27 where Kavanaugh and Ford could both testify. Throughout this process, Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale classmate of Kavanagh’s, came forward with an accusation against him stating that he was “thrusting his penis” in her face at a dorm party in college.
Despite Kavanaugh’s denials, protests and criticism from both sides of the argument have erupted. The media and politicians — most notably our president — did not waste time in turning the Kavanaugh accusations into a partisan issue, blaming Democrats.
Trump saw the attack on Kavanaugh as a democratic attack on him and his administration. President Trump blames the Democrats for the timing of the accusations against Kavanaugh saying, “I wish the Democrats could have done this a lot sooner, because they had this information for many months. And they shouldn’t have waited till literally the last days. They should have done it a lot sooner.”
This implies that Trump believes Ford’s alleged assault was scheduled in order to postpone Kavanaugh’s nomination. Other politicians and critics have even suggested that the allegations were false and Ford was working with Democrats in order to delay the confirmation.
Critics of Ford have questioned why she waited 36 years to report the alleged assault and whether it was an opportunistic ploy by Democrats. President Trump — the leader of these critics — tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
Ford has countered these claims, writing in her testimony that while people have accused her of having a political agenda, she is “an independent person and [is] no one’s pawn.”
Research on sexual violence shows that the majority of survivors and victims do not report their abuse right away, with reasons varying from shame to fear of retaliation or belief. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is believed that only 15.8–35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported.
The Kavanaugh confirmation and the allegations made have led to a popular movement on social media using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport and #BelieveSurvivors. These hashtags are meant to spread stories and build coalitions for victims of sexual assault who may otherwise feel alone.
Whether the allegations about Kavanaugh are true or not is beside the point — the claims have brought forward hundreds of other tales of abuse and survival that must be taken seriously. We as a society must ask ourselves: Why is abuse continuing and what is allowing the perpetuation of rape culture?
The tendency to not hold men accountable for their actions starts with the attitudes formed in schools and colleges. Dress code policies teach men and women two very different things. While schools teach girls that they are responsible for how others react to and view their bodies, schools teach boys that they are not to blame for their reactions and behaviors towards women — the women are.
College campuses are a space where sexual assault often occurs and goes unpunished. Fraternities are often seen in the media as being culprits of inappropriate language and action towards women, and are usually not held accountable. In fraternities, it is easy to hide behind a football team or other powerful entities that work in their favor — this is a strong deterrent for people who want to report their abuse and seek justice.
When women claim they were assaulted, they are often met with blame-shifting questions such as, “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” or “Are you sure you didn’t say yes?” among many other irrelevant accusations. This is a dangerous way to look at sexual assault and the victims, as it perpetuates the idea that the victims are at fault.
In fact, during the Kavanaugh debates, a picture resurfaced of Kavanaugh’s fraternity brothers in the Yale chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon holding a flag of women’s underwear. This is the same fraternity that was under fire back in 2011 for chanting, “No means yes and yes means anal” outside of the university’s Women’s Center.
Studies show that one in five women are sexually assaulted while attending college, and more than 90 percent do not report their assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This reflects our broader society, as often times our reactions to college students who commit sexual assault is echoed in how we see adult abusers. The classic “slap on the wrist” punishments or “he had such a bright future” sentiments are all too common.
Social media influencer Amber Rose — who has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement — recently shared a post that read: “If 50 men call one woman a ‘hoe,’ you’ll believe it, but if 50 women call one man a rapist, you find it questionable?” This quote clearly reflects how our society treats assault claims by women while simultaneously perpetuating the very rape culture that has made them victims.
Sexual assault survivors everywhere are angry and are protesting for justice. The eruption of the #MeToo movement and the courage that so many survivors have shown in sharing their stories has begun to shift discussions of assault and the unfair treatment of survivors.
As the #MeToo movement develops along with this discussion, we have seen the focus begin to shift to the political stage as unequal power relations and their connection with sexual assault is brought to light. The uncovering of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and the accusations made against several political figures — including Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Dan Schoen, Wesley Goodman, Patrick Meehan and John Conyers — have shown that this issue is far and wide, and does not just happen on Hollywood sets.
With all this being said, it is hard to believe that someone may not report their abuse. There is still a strong stigma associated with reporting sexual assault. The doubts, the blaming, the inaction — these are only a handful of barriers that so many face to receiving justice for their assault and their pain.
As we continue to strive for a fairer and equal society, we must ask tough questions about our long standing attitudes towards women, and our reactions towards sexual assault. If we want a better future, we must think critically about how these attitudes and reactions may be continuing a legacy of violence and silence.
The print version of this article incorrectly quoted the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity members. The misquote was “No means no, yes means anal,” the correct quote was “No means yes, yes means anal,”