Op-ed: Why believing women matters

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 5:46pm

Why believing women matter

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I watched psychologist Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in awe of her courage, patriotism, sacrifice, trauma and tragedy. Of all the things said and done throughout the two days of proceedings, one thing struck me most of all: She was 15 when Brett Kavanaugh locked her in a room and assaulted her, covering her mouth so she could not scream for help.

My sister is 15.

As I listened to Ford recount the horrific incident of 36 years ago, my breath caught in my throat as I tried to wrap my mind around this happening to someone my sister’s age — of this happening to my sister.

My sister is passionate and strong-willed, with stronger and more eloquently expressed opinions than a great deal of my peers four years elder and more educated. She is hilarious and vibrant. She is unapologetically and unequivocally herself. She is extraordinarily kind, compassionate and thoughtful. I think if you asked her to describe herself, feminist would be high on her list — and rightly so. She, too, is brimming with opinions and outrage about these proceedings. But my most principal thought throughout the proceedings was that this could happen to her.

Watching Ford discuss the assault she endured and the trauma that follows her to this day, I thought of my sister. Ford struggled for years with friendships and academics. She has two front doors due to the claustrophobia that resulted from her assault. Unaddressed and undiscussed but, I think, wholly relevant and uncoincidentally, as a survivor of sexual assault with lasting mental health implications, she has dedicated her life to the study of psychology. Ford’s sexual assault changed her life. It changed who she is as a person in countless, immeasurable ways. At such an integral point in adolescence and development, she was forever changed because she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh.

At such a pivotal age — 15 — my sister is different and more mature every time I come home from school. One of my most miraculous and rewarding experiences has been witnessing my sister become the young woman she is, and it blows my mind to think about how much she has changed. I am powerless in her protection against such a vicious act, and can only hope and pray to a divine power I don’t believe in that she will be able to continue to grow and flourish without anything like this happening to her. But it could happen to her. It could happen to anyone. Currently, sexual violence will happen to one in three women in her lifetime. One in four women will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

With Kavanaugh, with Brock Turner, with men who stand accused of sexual assault, we hear that they are “just boys.” That these accusations will ruin their reputations and lives. That it happened 36 years ago. Accused perpetrators of sexual violence have a tendency to use the plights they go through as a result of their committed assaults to turn themselves into victims. More often than not, society allows it.

But what about the women? Ford was just a girl. For her and many other victims of sexual assault, their lives are ruined from the moment these “boys” feel entitled to treat women as objects for their own pleasure. Women are faulted for not reporting incidents and not being believed when they do report them. They are confined to silent victimhood, their lives forever altered, in a society that time and time again believes men.

This is not just an issue of if Kavanaugh can prove his innocence and if he should be confirmed to the Supreme Court. This is far bigger; it is about the men who are given free passes and excuses and the women who are not believed and valued. President Donald Trump lamented the #MeToo movement is dangerous for powerful men. It is, because it’s time we say enough is enough. Instead of excusing powerful men, it is time to empower women. Instead of protecting men from having their lives ruined by accusations, it is time to protect the women whose lives were ruined by assaults. For Ford, for Anita Hill, for all victims of sexual assault, for all women, for all 15-year-old girls and for my sister, that starts with believing women, right now.

Olivia Turano is an LSA junior.