Image: A person holds their face in their hands, tears dripping from their chin. (Counselling/Pixabay)
I’ve been thinking of how to talk about the news and the Kavanaugh nomination. I finally gave up on writing anything useful.
My opinions are colored by my own history as a survivor of sexual violence. I simply can’t think of this without being reminded of all the women I have known who were targets of sexual violence by men who knew that they’d never face any consequences for what they did. I’m not going to pretend I can be “objective” about this situation.
Nor do I think that anything I say is going to affect the vote by the Senate, or even anyone else’s mind. Let’s be honest – Americans have pretty much made up our minds about this, one way or the other, haven’t we?
Instead, I would like to raise some questions about the future.
- If it is unfair for men to face accusations of sexual misconduct years after the fact, what are we going to do about making it more possible for victims to report sooner and with fewer negative consequences for reporting? I’m talking not only about the barriers in law enforcement and the court system, but the fact that many persons making such a report face blame and judgment from family and friends.
- What is it going to take for us to believe people who say they have been attacked? A study using FBI data over the period from 2006 to 2010 concluded that of the rape reports in that time period, only 5% were false or baseless. In other words, someone reporting this humiliating crime is highly likely to be telling the truth. Meanwhile, the majority of sexual assaults go unreported – meaning, no one is accused of them. They go unreported because victims are not stupid – they are aware of the facts I list above. Moreover, they are likely to encounter doubt and counter-accusations from friends as well as law enforcement. Even among the minority of perpetrators who are actually accused, they are highly unlikely to be prosecuted or convicted.
- When are we going to recognize that the phrase “ruined life” applies to the victim of a violent crime, even though we’re more likely to hear it in reference to the accused? There may somewhere be survivors of such crimes who just walk away unharmed, but I’ve never met one. Instead, sexual assault survivors often deal with a lifetime of PTSD, anxiety and phobias, huge therapy bills if they want to recover some semblance of peaceful existence, and many like myself have to deal with physical sequelae as well. Many of us choose brave language (like “survivor” instead of “victim”) as part of our recovery but our lives were changed forever by what was done to us.
- Why do we have to talk about “wives and sisters” when we plead for attention to be paid to these injustices? Why can’t a woman’s life matter on its own? Why do the male victims of sexual attacks have to be invisible?
- What concrete actions can we take to make things better in the future? How can we handle reports of rape or sexual violence so as not to demonize the person who reports? How can we change the system, or ourselves, so that we identify at least as much with the victim as we identify with the accused?
Especially if you feel that Judge Kavanaugh has been treated unfairly, I’d be very interested in your take on these questions.