The U.S. Senate voted today to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by a 50-48 vote. The message to survivors of sexual harassment, abuse and assault—and all those who believed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee is clear—we remain a culture that does not respond appropriately to those who come forward and will not accept the fact that people who perpetrate sexual assaults intentionally ensure that victims have no witnesses and little evidence to support their reports of what was done to them, nor that assailants often are otherwise well-liked, admired members of their communities.
Not only are victims largely not believed when they report, they also are not believed when they tell us why they didn’t report. There are decades of published data from credible sources and tens of thousands of stories from survivors which comprehensively detail why survivors don’t report. Ultimately each survivor’s individual reasoning falls under the same umbrella – they do not trust the rest of us to respond appropriately.
We know that sexual harassment, abuse and assault are serious and widespread problems. And how we respond to victims who tell us what happened to them matters.
While Dr. Ford faced a severe backlash from the Trump administration, legislators and the public on social media in coming forward with her experience, President Trump—a man with his own track record of outrageously disrespectful comments about women—revered Kavanaugh’s performance during last Thursday’s hearing, characterizing the judge’s aggressive tone as “powerful, honest, and riveting,” according to his Twitter statement, and saying, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him.”
It takes an incredible amount of courage for survivors of sexual abuse to come forward. The level of attention around high-profile cases makes it even more daunting to speak out, as victims fear the negative impact of public scrutiny and even threats to their safety such as Dr. Ford experienced.
The Kavanaugh hearing and confirmation process reiterated to millions of listeners around the world that widespread sexual abuse and harassment is a sweeping and often unspoken problem. Victims often feel they must hide their truths rather than have the traumatic experiences met with denial, shame, and a stripping of self-worth.
That is why Dr. Ford remained largely silent for nearly four decades, why she reported her truth anonymously before her identity was leaked, and why she called the hearing absolutely terrifying. Her greatest fears materialized. She and her family were attacked and forced to enter literal hiding and her experiences were scrutinized and discredited.
We simply must do better. To maintain this hostile status-quo is harmful not only to victims and survivors, but to all of us.
We must continue to work in our communities to illustrate the scope and impact of the problem and create a culture of respect, safety and equality. A culture that excuses or discounts sexual assault breeds from power inequities that embolden abusers and silence victims.
Dr. Ford has served as the courageous voice for survivors who have not yet found their own, and for those who may never get the chance to find theirs. She has inspired survivors throughout the world to bravely share their truths. She is a hero for survivors and an inspiration in the movement to end sexual assault and abuse.
She, however, is also yet another example of a survivor who did not receive an adequate response to the sexual assault she experienced.
We can do better. We must do better.
The work to end sexual harassment, abuse and assault is far from over as this nomination process has illustrated.
We need your help in standing up against sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Speak out. Practice healthy behaviors and relationships. Demonstrate acceptance and respect.
Hand-in-hand, we can create communities that believe victims and provide help, hope, and healing to all survivors.
Together, we will end sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
Chief Executive Officer
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape