Content warning: sexual harassment and assault.
In the past few weeks two women have come forward to accuse American Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of historic sexual assault. These accusations have subsequently received intense scrutiny throughout America and the world. One alleged victim, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, was called to testify at Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Thursday, September 27 2018.
As a subsequent result of the scrutiny this case has received, a contentious debate over how victims of sexual assault and rape are treated by society has been opened. The question left on the minds of many is, does this case send a message of hope or hopelessness to victims of sexual assault and rape, and is this a case study in the failure of the American justice system to protect victims?
According to statistical analysis of the National Crime and Victimization Survey (NCVS), an annual study for the American Department of Justice conducted by the American Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), it was revealed that out of every 1000 sexual assaults and rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free; only 310 of those are ever reported to police; only 57 reports lead to arrest; only 7 of those cases will lead to felony conviction, and, only 6 out of 1000 rapists and sexual predators will ever be incarcerated.
This means roughly one out of three cases will go unreported. Horrendously, only 20 per cent of college-aged female students ever report sexual assault. Professor Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez are two individual women who tragically make up a negligible percentage of RAINN’s statistics. Yet the seismic power of their testimony makes both women a beacon of hope and a cause for heartbreak for many silent sexual abuse victims.
Their bravery to testify, and willingness to stand under the unrelentingly cruel and glaring scrutiny of the American establishment, the media and the world, is a beacon of light which casts a long shadow over more than just Kavanaugh’s nomination as a justice to the most powerful and prestigious court in America.
The backlash and attack that these women have received regrettably serves as a reminder to other silent victims of sexual violence that the law that is meant to protect you doesn’t, and that speaking out can lead to more pain and abuse.
As these two women stepped forward out of anonymity, they knew what was going to happen; their character shredded, their privacy decimated and the course of their lives warped irreparably. The only potential benefit, if they regard it as considering the abuse they have had to suffer to achieve it, is that maybe (and only maybe, because one of the most terrifying aspects of this story is that Kavanaugh may still be appointed a Supreme Court Justice,) their experiences are believed, and thus, an alleged sexual abuser is stopped from being a decision maker in America’s highest court.
Moreover, their stories have highlighted and reinforced the dynamics of abuse that keeps victims quiet.
It’s hard to picture Professor Christine Blasey Ford even imagining that her trauma would be attacked and undermined multiple times by the President of the United States on Twitter, stating “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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
Dr. Ford testified against her attacker today (Thursday, September 27) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. She has already been through an intensive FBI investigation where she passed a polygraph examination, also giving other evidence such as a conversation she had with her therapist where she struggles with the guilt of not speaking up about her attacker.
By the time you read this, it is possible Kavanaugh will have been given a lifetime tenure in a court that could overturn landmark cases like Roe vs Wade, which set a controversial legal precedent on women’s reproductive rights, specifically on their right to terminate a pregnancy.
The monumental political reverberations that Kavanaugh’s successful nomination leaves one with a feeling of unease. Personally, a large portion of that unease is that it reaffirms something which keeps me up at night – that maybe it was the right decision that I didn’t report my rape.
Maybe one day I will be thrust into a position where I feel an obligation to do so, but for now, almost two years later, I will continue to rebuild and restore my sense of autonomy which a boy – who may one day be referred to by his friends as a: ‘fine man, with an impeccable record’ – temporarily took away from me.
Ford and Ramierez, like many others, do not owe us their story, yet they gave it because they felt an obligation to. I am so sorry that they were placed between the biggest rock and the hardest place.
Ultimately, their struggle against the power that seeks to silence them gives many silent survivors a feeling of hope and loss regarding a topic that we refuse to engage with in day to day life, and in many cases try and forget. Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, to many victims such as myself, their bravery and sacrifice is undeniable.