Just over a year has passed since Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court. In September 2018, Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse the nominee of committing sexual and physical assault, spurring a national debate around whether she was “telling the truth.”
As Blasey Ford bravely spoke about her traumatic experience and expressed legitimate doubts about Kavanaugh’s qualifications to fill one of the country’s most prestigious positions, myriad people, including the president of the United States, accused her of lying.
Blasey Ford is one of many survivors of sexual violence who have come forward only to be harassed, discredited and even blamed, while the reputation of the alleged abuser remains unscathed. The resounding question of survivors seeking dignity and retribution for their suffering and mistreatment is: Why don’t they believe me?
Despite those who showed support and believed Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh was confirmed — proof that not enough people are taking the issue seriously.
Part of the public’s response is victim blaming. Common phrases heard following an attack include “she was asking for it,” “she wanted it” or simply “boys will be boys.”
Another reaction is “What about [the accused’s] future?” Rather than showing empathy for the victim, whose life already has been turned upside down, empathy and protection go to the person who inflicted violence. This is evident in the fact that people such as Brock Turner, a 21-year-old swimmer from Stanford who was convicted of sexual assault, spent just three months in jail.
As Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, said in her TED Talk, “Sexual assault survivors around the world are all at once being heard and villifed.”
As more and more women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault — national incidents include the recent cases against Harvey Weinstein and ongoing accusations against President Donald Trump — awareness of the issue is undoubtedly growing. Yet, certain stigmas remain unchanged, and the overall reality for survivors is still deeply disheartening.
The issue is pervasive and widespread, and studies show that women, especially those of college age, are likely to experience sexual violence.
According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 in 6 American women has experienced sexual assault or rape, as well as 3 percent of American men.
Additionally, 23 percent of female undergraduate students and 5 percent of male students experience rape or sexual assault on college campuses. Many of these victims do not report the crimes to police, believing it to be a “personal matter,” “not important enough to report” or they simply “did not want the perpetrator to get in trouble,” the study showed.
It’s worth noting those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, as well as those with physical disabilities, are disproportionately impacted by this violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a young woman preparing to leave for college, these statistics are jarring. But more heartbreaking than the statistics is the response to sexual assault that dismisses accusations of assault. This leads survivors to believe their experience is not valid or, worse, that they are at fault. It is shocking that, as a society, we continually give the benefit of the doubt to the accused but refuse to do the same for the victims.
Enough is enough. It is important we give survivors the space to tell their stories and we withhold our personal opinion of whether we “believe” them — simply listen and show grace.
Emma Lawrence is a senior at Santa Fe Prep. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.