A good friend—I’ll call her Alice—was sexually assaulted in college. She had been going out with a boy she knew, a boy she trusted, a boy she liked. One night, she walked him back to his dorm and he became aggressive, sexually assaulting her. Alice never told anyone, until she told me, 40 years later.
We reserve a specific, accusatory language for women. What was she doing out at that hour, we ask, in his dorm room, what did she expect? Was she drinking, wearing too short a skirt or too tempting a blouse? She was probably asking for it. Why would she put herself in that position?
Women do not sexually assault themselves. And yet, the way we speak about the horrors perpetrated upon women, men—especially men from well-educated, elite backgrounds—are not only unquestioningly believed, they are not even in the room: “She did this to herself.”
Such is the case with Brett Kavanaugh as he awaits his lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He is assumed to be a paragon of virtue. The women must be lying. Where is the proof? Why now? If it’s true, why did these women wait so long to tell anyone, to report it?
I know why, because I kept my own secret for 34 years. And what happened when I finally, at age 50, told my childhood girlfriends what had happened? They told me what I’d known all along: no one would have believed you, even we would not have believed you, you would have had to leave school, and it would have ruined your life.
I know because, after I shared my story in the newspaper, I received an overwhelming number of emails from women telling me they never reported their assaults either.
I know because I am a writing teacher, and students often take my class to learn how to write about their assaults, the secret torments they’ve carried for decades.
Still, we have many self-proclaimed experts. “Fox News host Tucker Carlson has slammed sexual assault survivors who don’t report their abusers, labeling them as ‘part of the problem’ for not fulfilling their ‘obligation to tell us.’”
President Trump does not know Kavanaugh personally, but he takes his word for it, calling him a great gentleman and one of the highest quality people, saying, “the second accuser has nothing. She admits that she was drunk. She admits time lapses.”
Senate Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell said, to a standing ovation, “In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court…. So my friends, keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this, we’re gonna plow right through it.”
Don’t get rattled? Plow right through? No one seems to care if Kavanaugh was or was not drunk or experienced “time lapses.” No one cares if he was at the party or in the room, or whether or not he sexually assaulted a woman (or women), because if he did, why would these women wait so long, 30 years, 40 years, to tell?
I am not asking you to automatically believe women, to unquestioningly believe Kavanaugh’s accusers. But I am asking you to consider motive. What motive do these women have to lie? They are not getting a lifetime Supreme Court appointment; they are getting a lifetime of their name and their reputation being connected, publicly, to their perpetrator.
These women have requested a full FBI investigation into their charges. Would you ask to be investigated by the FBI if you were lying?
My friend, Alice, was sexually assaulted in college. She pulled on her clothes and walked home alone in the dark at four in the morning, shaken and in shock. What had just happened? How could this boy she knew, her friend, have done this to her? Had she been too flirty and somehow asked for it? What would her parents think? Would they blame her, make her file charges, take her out of school? Then what?
As Alice walked, arms wrapped tightly around her body, a police car pulled alongside. They stopped, rolled down the window, and asked if she was okay, if anything was wrong. “No no,” she said, trying her best to appear together, composed, like the good girl she was. “Thanks, I’m just trying to get home.”
You can reach me at KentuckyTeri@gmail.com