Christine Blasey-ford, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Pitfalls of Speaking out
By Zach Hiner, Executive Director
September 26, 2018
Since she first came forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of the current nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States, Christine Blasey-Ford has been the subject of news reports, internet comment threads, and dinner table conversations around the country. The subject of many of those conversations or think-pieces has been less about what Brett Kavanaugh allegedly did to Dr. Blasey-Ford (and potentially several other women) and more about why Dr. Blasey-Ford is coming forward now, what she has to gain from making her allegations public and whether or not she is a liar.
Dr. Blasey-Ford’s allegations are amplified largely because of the profile of the person being accused, and it is easy to dismiss the furor – on both sides – as political bickering. But as an organization that has worked with survivors of institutional abuse for more than thirty years, we know it isn’t quite so simple.
On the largest of scales, what is happening to Dr. Blasey-Ford is what happens to far too many survivors of sexual abuse when they come forward. Too many people focus on the wrong “why” – instead of asking “why did this abuse occur in the first place,” the questions are “why are you coming forward now?” or “why do you think this is helpful?” Sometimes, as seen with Dr. Blasey-Ford, the question is “why are you lying?”
This misfocus is common. One need only look at the powerful conversations in #WhyIDidntReport happening on social media to see thousands of stories from survivors explaining why they couldn’t or didn’t report their abuse earlier. Whether it’s a feeling of shame, a belief that they are responsible for the assault they experienced, or a cynical understanding that they will be questioned and disbelieved, the stories are numerous.
This misfocus is also based in nothing more than feeling. It’s understandable to feel shocked when someone close to you is accused of a heinous crime. It’s difficult to believe that the man who came over for cookouts and lovingly tossed baseballs with your children could be a violent abuser. It’s hard to understand that the beloved teacher who wins awards for her teaching ability could be grooming children. But visceral feelings of disbelief do not mesh with the reality of the facts. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and other organizations, false reports of sexual assault are uncommonly rare.
Victims of institutional sexual abuse often go through the same thing that Dr. Blasey-Ford is experiencing, but with less public support – for example, a priest or coach will often have far more support in a community that the lone person coming forward to tell their story of abuse. This is all compounded by the fact that much of this abuse occurs to children and young people who are already less likely to be believed by other adults. SNAP routinely sees this as scores of abuse victims come forward with allegations against the church even today. We see this regardless of faith tradition.
So while we celebrate the bravery of Dr. Blasey-Ford and offer our support to her and the other women who may have been abused by Mr. Kavanaugh, we remember that there are more women and men across the country who are coming forward with allegations of abuse only to be publicly disbelieved, privately mocked, and commonly ignored.
In the post-#MeToo zeitgeist, more and more people are coming forward to talk about the abuse that had happened in their past. The question then becomes how do we do better as a society? Each of us has a role to play in changing the culture that surrounds sexual assault. It can be as simple as writing a letter to the editor in your local community newspaper, correcting misinformation while expressing support and understanding for victims who come forward. It can be as intensive as volunteering your time with organizations that support sexual assault victims or those that implement prevention programs. You can donate to support organizations, correct misperceptions with friends and family when difficult conversations arise, or work with your state and local legislators to implement policies and programs that help prevent sexual abuse in the first place.
What’s important to recognize is that is incumbent on every single one of us to make a difference, not just those who are coming forward and speaking publicly.