It’s been almost a year since the fateful Harvey Weinstein story broke, upending Hollywood and most of the world. It seems like every day people are coming forward with their own tales of sexual harassment. Obviously not every predator has been dealt with, not every assault has been exposed and not every victim has come forth, but we are beginning to recognize this problem and deal with it accordingly. With every #MeToo, we seem to rid ourselves of another sexual predator infesting our movies, offices and even our government. This cleansing of the legislative branch, as well as many other areas of our society, is an encouraging prospect. After this era of silence, we now can rid society of this plague once and for all. Right?
Wrong. Just when we thought we wouldn’t have to put up with this anymore, prospective Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh done gets #MeToo’d. Christine Blasey Ford, a Northern California a psychologist and professor of statistics at Palo Alto University, recently came forward claiming Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a party in high school. Kavanaugh claims it never happened and that he doesn’t even remember the incident detailed, but Ford remains strong in her story. She and the Democrats want an FBI investigation to provide credibility to her story, but Republicans are resisting.
Another allegation released in a recent article from The New Yorker reveals Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, has recently come forth with a sexual harassment claim from an experience she had while at college. This claim is extremely new and investigations still must be made, but many have backed up her story and Ramirez is also asking for a full FBI investigation. She decided to go public only because she didn’t want others to do it for her.
“I didn’t want any of this,” Ramirez said to The New Yorker. “But now I have to speak.” She hoped her story would add credibility to Ford’s claims as well.
In the race to get a conservative Supreme Court justice sworn in before the possible turnover during the midterm elections, Kavanaugh is a key player in the Republican agenda, to which these allegations pose a monumental threat. Some are even implying this is all just a political ploy created by Democrats to get rid of a possible conservative judge.
The main question these Republicans are asking is why now? Why did Ford, the first allegation, wait until Kavanaugh was about to be confirmed into the Supreme Court to come forward with her allegations (though there is proof that she told Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about the issue in July). Even President Donald Trump tweeted “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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
Here’s the thing: There’s so much complexity in when and why victims come forward. After the beginning of the #MeToo movement and women from all different careers and income levels were exposing their abusers, it seemed like the taboos that came with this issue were beginning to dissolve. But there are still so many reasons women do not step forward about sexual assault, or why they do it long after the assault. In response to Trump’s tweet, many are tweeting #WhyIDidntReport, detailing their own experiences with sexual assault and why they were not able to come forward at the time, writing they were too young to be taken seriously, it was a friend or husband, it was a police officer or no one would believe them. This isn’t just an issue with Ford — it’s an issue for thousands of women all over the world.
While talking to The Washington Post, Ford personally grappled with what coming forward publicly would mean for her and her family, a common issue for many victims, especially if their predator is someone powerful or well-known. Eventually, through a series of events that led to her name being exposed against her will, Ford decided it was her duty as a citizen to reveal this disturbing story about a possible Supreme Court justice. Ramirez detailed similar feelings in her interviews.
According to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, victims often don’t report sexual assault incidences for a number of reasons: they are afraid of repercussions from the predator, think the police won’t do anything, don’t want their family and friends to find out, are afraid to be attacked as liars, among many other reasons. Sexual assault is a complicated issue, so coming forward about it is naturally just as, if not more, complicated.
For those who do decide to come forward, the fear and doubt don’t end there. Often times these victims are shamed and their experiences are minimalized by outsiders. Especially if the perpetrator is a popular, well-liked figure, they are even more likely to receive hate and discrimination because of their experiences.
Like many victims, Ford suffered extreme trauma because of this event. She has experienced long-term anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms from this event, as many other survivors face; that is, coming forward can be practically impossible because of all the painful memories it drags up. According to The Washington Post, Ford has been unable to form healthy relationships with men, and her friend, Jim Gensheimer, revealed she resisted buying a house without a second exit in the master bedroom. However, despite her struggles, she has given other women courage to stand up against predators and finally come forth about their experiences, as it did with Ramirez.
Ford wasn’t lucky enough to have her complete say in how and when her story was revealed. Though she eventually decided coming forward was crucial in preserving the integrity of our government, her life and the lives of her family will forever be changed because of these events. How, when and if she and any other victims of sexual assault reveal their stories should always be their choice. Throughout these trials, we see much debate about whether Ford and Ramirez’s claims are real and why they are emerging now; yet, rarely are these women being granted the respect they deserve for putting themselves on the line to stand up against corruption in the government. We have gained incredible ground over the past year in listening to women’s stories and respecting their experiences — Ford and Ramirez should be treated no differently. Victims are not always able to come forth about their abuses. But when they do, we should listen.
Dana Pierangeli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.