Kavanaugh accusations spark #WhyIDidntReport, survivors share stories
Over the past few weeks, two women have come forward with stories accusing Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, of sexual assault. In an account published by The Washington Post, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford detailed an incident from high school, when a drunk, then-17-year-old Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her to a bed, attempted to tear off her clothes and stifled her screams with his hand. Soon after this accusation went public, Deborah Ramirez alleged that the judge once exposed himself to her 35 years ago during a drinking game in their college dorms at Yale University. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, calling them “smears” and vowing that he would not be withdrawing his nomination.
Republican lawmakers quickly jumped to Kavanaugh’s defense, chalking the allegations up to partisan character assassination. And at the forefront of these dismissals is the same tired counterargument that often plagues victims of sexual assault who share their stories long after the fact: Why didn’t they say something sooner?
This sentiment was unfortunately yet unsurprisingly echoed by President Donald Trump on Twitter: “I have no doubt that, 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” — the implication being, of course, that decades-old sexual assault allegations are not to be believed because victims would’ve simply gone to the authorities then and there.
This is infuriatingly untrue, and such logic completely ignores the multitude of reasons why a survivor might not come forward right away, if ever. To counter the president’s baseless claim, the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport went viral, as hundreds of thousands of people came forward with their own stories to demonstrate the wide-ranging reasons victims might feel unable to immediately report their accounts of sexual misconduct.
As experts on sexual abuse and trauma have pointed out, many victims, conflicted with feelings of confusion and shame, wrestle for years with whether what happened to them was actually assault. And some, due to widespread victim blaming borne out of rape culture, believe the violation was simply their own fault. Ramirez recounted feeling guilty and “embarrassed” about her experience because she had been intoxicated that night.
Fears of disastrous repercussions for the victims and minimal punishment for the perpetrators also frequently prevent victims from speaking up. Some of the survivors participating in #WhyIDidntReport explained what happened when they did report their sexual assault. Some walked away, emotionally drained and traumatized, with ruined careers and tarnished reputations, while their abusers walked free. Ford recalled harboring the same concern when she considered going public with her allegation: “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?”
Regardless of the veracity of either woman’s claims, the Editorial Board stands with sexual assault survivors who wish to remain silent as well as those who decide to speak out. We recognize that this pattern of questioning survivors for not immediately coming forward is sustained by a patriarchal system that attempts to explain away victims’ accounts, perpetuates the cycle of victim shaming and serves to exonerate abusers’ behavior.
Written by: The Editorial Board