By Lauren Cameron
On Wednesday September 27th, I sat in my English class on the first day of my sophomore year, paying absolutely no attention to a single word that left my professor’s mouth. Despite my love for English, I sat fixated on my phone as I watched a livestream of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Minutes into Ford’s opening statement, I found myself stumbling out of the row of seats as I left the lecture hall in a flurry of overflowing emotion. The last thing I wanted to do was cry in public, and I felt an urgent need to suppress my emotions and maintain composure as I power walked to the nearest bathroom. Embarrassment flooded my cheeks until I finally was able to let my emotions stream down my face in the solitary comfort of the women’s bathroom. Tears of anger, frustration, sadness, enragement, and memories poured as Ford’s testimony and the image of a laughing teenage Kavanaugh reverberated through my head.
But I was not alone in my emotional response to the hearings. Throughout the rest of the day, I did my best to comfort many friends and peers going through similar reactions to the triggering hearing. While at first I beat myself up over my mental state, I soon realized that the idea that women must remain composed and unemotional in order to be respected is precisely the diametrical expectation disrupting our nation, causing unjust outcomes as seen in the Kavanaugh case.
The notion that a man who’s clearly committed sexual assault could soon be confirmed into our nation’s highest court, one reserved for the most ethical members of society, is horrifying to the point that I shake as I write these words. When I took to social media to see others’ outrage, one tweet stuck out to me. “The Brock Turners grow up to be Brett Kavanaughs who make the rules for Brock Turners,” Twitter user @emrazz wrote. To the many of us that stand with Ford, including myself, this case is about far more than the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice. It is about taking a stand for the 300,000 plus Americans who experience sexual assault each year. It’s about ensuring the proper laws and precedents are put into place so that my children will be raised in an environment where sexual assault is not tolerated or swept under the rug. It is about standing up for the basic value of all human beings and their fundamental right to lead a life free from sexual violence. This case is about justice finally being served for a man who thought he could get away with something seemingly inconsequential to his disturbing view of reality.
As I watched the hearings, both Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s, I could not get past the image of Kavanaugh laughing at Ford’s expense. The incredulous male rage that Kavanaugh exuded with each belligerent denial only upset me further. So many men are innately accustomed to not being held accountable for their actions that it has become commonplace to get away with sexual assault and violence. Whether it be Brock Turner, a male student found guilty of raping an unconscious girl at a Stanford party, Hunter Morgan, a 25 year old man on trial for sexually assaulting a classmate at Baylor University, or Saifullah Khan, the boy at the center of an eerily similar case at Yale – history has proven time and time again that these actions often come without consequence. So for many men, including Kavanaugh, the very thought of being held accountable for sexual assault leads to an indelible male rage.
Unfortunately, powerful women coming forward and not being believed for their stories of sexual assault is nothing new. In 1991, Anita Hill faced parallel backlash and disbelief for coming forward about the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of incumbent Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Despite the fact that she was an extremely credible source and four other women came forward about his lewd behavior, he is now a member of the Supreme Court. Ford and Hill have become public figures, thrust into the spotlight for harrowing reasons, but both remain a representation of all the women who have been through similar experiences. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90% of college sexual assault victims don’t report their crime and 63% of all sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
But, at the end of the day, Kavanaugh’s guilt is irrelevant. Even if there is any shadow of a doubt that Kavanaugh committed the sexual assault, he shouldn’t be appointed to the highest court in America. The fact that many men don’t recognize this certainty only reinforces the male unaccountability plaguing our nation. While many people continue to ask why Ford didn’t come forward about the story earlier -a question that comes up far too often as society loves to play their favorite act of “blaming the victim” - they are failing to recognize how traumatic and terrifying it is to publicize something so personal and scarring.
“Shame is a natural reaction to being violated or abused. In fact, abuse, by its very nature, is humiliating and dehumanizing,” says Psychologist Gershen Kaufman. This case itself proves to be just one more example of why so many women are afraid of coming forward: if someone as credible and composed as Ford is not believed, then why would anyone else be? Why would anyone risk telling their story about something that has given them anxiety their whole life when it is probable that nothing will come from her efforts? I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. I applaud Ford with all of my might, but I am unsure if I could ever mirror her bravery.
The current stage of limbo during the FBI investigation has many women, including myself, on edge. This case could be a massive turning point for the Me Too movement and empower women around the country to come forward about their similar experiences. The internet can already show for prompting women across the country to come forward –– Whether it be Gabrielle Selz, an award-winning author and novelist who wrote about her own experiences with sexual assault a few days ago, or Brenda, a 76-year old from Missouri who shared her own story on C-SPAN.
Despite the tears that forced me to leave my English class on my first day of sophomore year, I tried to fall asleep that night with even just a little bit of hope that justice would find its way back into America’s set of core values. It became a little bit easier to hold onto this hope when Senator Jeff Flake retracted his initial vote in favor of Kavanaugh and every time I’m reminded of the sheer number of women in support of Ford. Gradually, I learned to channel my fury at the lack of justice into passionate calls to my senators. I stopped apologizing for my tears and turned my sorrow into the voice of an ally for victims of sexual assault.
And despite my continued incredulity at the lack of male accountability in our country and a constant fear of continued sexual violence in our nation, I am determined to turn my despair into activism. For in the end, standing with Ford is not enough. We must march, cry, protest, yell, and fight with Ford, in hopes that one day our voices will be loud enough for the world to not only hear us, but listen.
(Graphic by Tara Steinmetz)