When a woman decides to report sexual misconduct she has experienced, you don’t have to relive her trauma. You don’t have to endure the depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder which she has developed as a result of that misconduct.
All you have to do is hear her out.
I’m not saying all men should drop everything and embark on anti-sexual misconduct crusades, devoting their life’s work to sniffing out abusers (though I really appreciate the work Ronan Farrow is doing).
But until men start trying to understand what it’s like to be a woman on the victim’s side of a sexual assault investigation, we will continue living in a society in which sexual misconduct is considered unfortunate but unavoidable. Men — and some women — can’t even begin to understand if they keep selectively empathizing with women’s stories, or flat-out refusing to listen to them.
I was disappointed (but not surprised) when Christine Blasey Ford’s account of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her in high school was met with widespread public disdain when her story went public last week.
Blasey, now a psychology professor in California, wrote to her senator Dianne Feinstein upon learning of Kavanaugh’s nomination that, at a house party in 1982, Kavanaugh had trapped and forced himself on her with the help of a friend.
Surprise, surprise — Blasey and the Democrats defending her have been accused of using her account as a stalling tactic.
In a Sept. 17 editorial, the Wall Street Journal acknowledged that, while Blasey may be “sincere in what she remembers,” Democrats had an ulterior motive in publicizing her story — “an election-eve #MeToo conflagration” to take down Kavanaugh. The editorial calls the potential shake-up “a serious injustice” to the Supreme Court nominee, who they claim has “led a life of respect for women in the law” since the incident.
We, as a society, spend so much time fretting over how men will be affected by sexual assault allegations — even when they’re guilty, which is 98 percent of the time — that we neglect to consider how their accusers are affected by being sexually assaulted.
Samantha Bee, who had my personal favorite response to critics of the anonymous woman who accused Aziz Ansari of sexual harassment in an essay last January, also defended Blasey on her show “Full Frontal.”
“[Blasey] did America a favor by coming forward with extremely relevant background information about an important job applicant,” Bee said.
She questioned why it’s “never the right time to bring up assault allegations against a rich white dude,” referencing Brock Turner (the former Stanford swimmer who was convicted of attempted rape in 2015, served six months in jail then appealed on the grounds that he’d only sought “outercourse” from the unconscious woman he assaulted.)
Blasey has been criticized for waiting 36 years to come forward with her story. But Turner’s accuser, who didn’t wait to report her assault to authorities, was still publicly vilified for speaking out at all.
Blasey is not alone, as evidenced by the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag that blew up last week in her defense. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, most women wait months, or even years, to report incidents. Most women, and over 90 percent of college-aged women, don’t report at all.
The problem clearly isn’t the amount of time women wait to speak out about being assaulted. It’s the fact that, when they do so, it inconveniences men. So why would the men want to listen to them?
Anita Hill, who testified before the Senate in 1991 that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, published an op-ed in the New York Times on Sept. 18.
“In 1991, the phrase ‘they just don’t get it’ became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence,” Hill wrote. “With years of hindsight … ‘not getting it’ isn’t an option for our elected representatives.”
Women don’t have the option to pretend sexual violence doesn’t exist. Men do, but they shouldn’t.
President Trump, of course, has weighed in on Blasey’s situation via Twitter: “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.”
Just as our society downplays the repercussions of sexual assault for its victims, we downplay how difficult it is to actually trudge through the reporting process. This leaves too many people with the perception that it’s a one-off conversation with a police officer or doctor, when, even if you’re not recounting your story in front of the Senate, it is still a lengthy, emotionally exhausting process.
Once, a tenured male professor asked my friends and I why more students don’t report sexual misconduct. If you want to report an incident, he said, all you have to do is sit down once with the police or your school’s disciplinary office, right?
Reporting sexual misconduct is, at minimum, a month-long process, during which you have to retell your story to person after person. If an investigation yields enough evidence for a hearing or a trial, the process drags on for another month, at the very least. Some may even extend years.
Women don’t gain anything from experiencing and reporting sexual misconduct except, statistically, increased levels of depression and anxiety.
Blasey is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday. Even if Blasey had waited 50 years to tell this story, and even if she was the only one Kavanaugh had ever assaulted (which, according to a recent New Yorker story, is not the case), her story would be valid. And what she’s doing is brave.
We can’t pick and choose which women’s stories to take seriously; we have to listen to all of them. Women aren’t asking for that much — just to be heard. They deserve that.