Re­port­ing a sex­ual as­sault

Kent County News - - OPINION - By JILL RICHARD­SON OtherWords

When Chris­tine Blasey Ford came for­ward to re­port that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee, Brett Ka­vanaugh, sex­u­ally as­saulted her in 1982, you could cue the re­sponse: Why didn’t she speak out then? Why didn’t she go to the po­lice?

There’s a long, long list of rea­sons why a woman wouldn’t speak out even now, and no doubt it was even more dif­fi­cult in the pre- Anita Hill world of 1982.

I can’t speak for ev­ery­one who has faced sex­ual as­sault, but I can speak for my­self.

1. At first, I didn’t know that what hap­pened to me was a crime. My first as­sault oc­curred in col­lege, 18 years ago. He lived in my dorm. I knew what rape was and didn’t think I’d ex­pe­ri­enced that. But I didn’t know that sex­ual vi­o­la­tions with­out con­sent that aren’t sex­ual in­ter­course are also a crime.

2. I couldn’t talk about it. Even now, I can’t de­scribe what hap­pened to my ther­a­pist in any de­tail. What hap­pened in­volved body parts that are too pri­vate to dis­cuss with those clos­est to me — let alone the po­lice, a judge, or a news­pa­per. Talk­ing about a past trauma can be re- trau­ma­tiz­ing. Some of us cope by stay­ing silent.

3. I blamed my­self. I phys­i­cally re­sisted for a while and then I froze and it hap­pened. At the time, I told my­self that if I re­ally didn’t want it, I would’ve kept fight­ing. I didn’t know that freez­ing is a nor­mal hu­man re­sponse in a trau­matic sit­u­a­tion.

4. Af­ter­ward, I wanted him to be my boyfriend. My ther­a­pist said this was my way of try­ing to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion. If he was my boyfriend, then what hap­pened could be rein­ter­preted as mean­ing­ful. It’s a per­verse re­sponse, but it’s ap­par­ently not un­com­mon.

5. I know some­one who re­ported a rape to the po- lice and had a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence of tes­ti­fy­ing in court and get­ting cros­sex­am­ined by her rapist’s lawyer in front of her rapist. And then the rapist was found in­no­cent. I don’t want that to hap­pen to me.

6. Now, 18 years later, the man who as­saulted me is an in­struc­tor of neu­rol­ogy at a prom­i­nent chil­dren’s hospi­tal. He did a ter­ri­ble thing to me, once, nearly two decades ago. Should I at­tempt to ruin his ca­reer be­cause of it?

The an­swer to that is: I don’t know. If I thought he was still as­sault­ing women and my speak­ing out would con­trib­ute to mak­ing him stop, I would in a heart­beat.

What he did to me 18 years ago still hurts so much that I would only re­visit that as­sault and ex­pose him pub­licly if there was a very clear pur­pose to do­ing so.

I ex­pect if I did at­tempt to ex­pose him, I’d be at­tacked. Peo­ple would say that it wasn’t an as­sault be­cause I wanted him to be my boyfriend af­ter­ward. They would say I wanted it be­cause I froze and stopped fight­ing. There are good odds I wouldn’t be be­lieved.

I’ll tell you this: Like Chris­tine Blasey Ford, if the man who as­saulted me was nom­i­nated for the U. S. Supreme Court, I’d speak up.

I don’t think a man who vi­o­lates a woman that way is qual­i­fied to rule on cases of vi­o­lence against women, or any other as­pect of their well- be­ing. I don’t think he could be im­par­tial.

When a vic­tim of sex­ual crimes comes for­ward, even if it’s decades af­ter the crime took place, we shouldn’t use her past si­lence against her as “ev­i­dence” to dis­credit her. That urge to dis­credit is ex­actly why it takes so long for some to come for­ward in the first place.

OtherWords colum­nist Jill Richard­son is pur­su­ing a doc­tor­ate in so­ci­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sinMadi­son. She lives in San Diego. Dis­trib­uted by OtherWords. org.

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