I Know Why Sexually Assaulted Women Resist Coming Forward; I’ve Been There

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.

At first glance, the willingness of the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee to call a hastily organized hearing on Monday to examine allegations by Christine Blasey Ford that she was sexual assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may look like an attempt at fairness, but it’s not. In fact, it demonstrates several of many reasons that women often don’t come forward after being the target of sexual assault or misconduct.

The fact that the committee refuses to allow an investigation of Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh attacked her sexually at a party when they were both in high school—whether by the FBI or another neutral entity with expertise in the examination of sexual assault allegations—shows that the committee Chairman Charles Grassley is more interested in quickly dispensing with Ford’s allegation. And he plans to do so in a setting that places Ford in jeopardy of being maligned on national television, echoing the power imbalance that nearly always exists between a sexual assault survivor and the perpetrator. Only here, that imbalance is exponentially exacerbated by the resources and political power behind Kavanaugh and his nomination to the highest court in the land.

Once the existence of her letter to Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, was leaked to The Intercept, and Ford, who had requested anonymity, felt compelled to come forward (given the near certainty that the leaking of her name was imminent), her vilification by right-wing media and derision by Republicans on the committee was ensured.

Foremost among the suspicion-mongers on the committee and conspiracy theorists of the right was the question, why did she take so long to come forward?

I know why. It’s the same reason I never came forward when, in 1979, I was raped in my dorm room by an acquaintance. And you know what? I likely never will name my attacker, unless in the unlikely event that he ever comes up for a lifetime appointment on the federal judiciary. And even in that circumstance, I’d have to give it a good long think before I did.

My reasons for not doing so are likely similar to those for which Ford was reluctant to make public her claim against Kavanaugh. I wouldn’t have expected the men who still hold power over prosecutions and the institutions of society to have advocated for me. I believe I would have been painted as a liar and loose girl of low morals. After all, I had been drinking. I had been part of the party before I went to bed. (And, unlike Ford, I had a “reputation.”) I would have been accused of trying to ruin the virtuous life of the attacker, who had a fiancée he planned to marry in the Catholic Church.

In grand scheme of things, there is clearly no benefit to Christine Blasey Ford in having come forward. Her attorney says she’s receiving death threats. Right-wing activists are making false claims about her life, ranging from her ratings as a professor to her parents’ financial woes.

Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, described Ford as “mixed up.” Alas, this is not surprising, given that when Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court was called into question by Anita Hill, Hatch described Hill, a law professor, as confused over the identity of her harasser. Hatch’s colleague, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, called the late revelation of Ford’s allegation against Kavanaugh “a drive-by shooting.” 

Without an investigation, how on earth could any woman alleging a sexual attack by a man as powerful as Kavanaugh, to expect a fair hearing of her claim—especially in a setting in which the nominee would not only present his rebuttal, but might also allow for the cross-examination of Ford by Kavanaugh’s attorney, as Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, suggested?

The naysayers invested in Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court contend that because the attack Ford alleges occurred 36 years ago, no investigation is possible. That is simply not true. Others who attended that party can be located. Classmates can be interviewed. Mark Judge, the Kavanaugh buddy whom Ford says was in the room at the time of the attack, could be summoned. 

Any transgression of a sexual nature leaves a permanent mark on the transgressed. In the case of the incident described by Ford, she says that Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth as he tried to mount her and tear off her clothes. That’s terrifying to contemplate—an action that would be truly traumatizing to the victim, and one that suggests that the perpetrator was well aware that his target had not consented to his despicable brand of fun.

Doesn’t the Senate Judiciary Committee owe it to the American people to thoroughly investigate whether that’s the kind of man who, with his colleagues on the loftiest bench, will have ultimate say over the laws that will shape the lives of generations to come? And doesn’t Christine Blasey Ford have a right to bear witness with facts established by an impartial investigative body?

Anyone who would say “no” to either of those questions cares far more for their own uncontested power than they do for equal justice under law.

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