Where as­sault vic­tims are heard

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Opinion - John Bre­unig is ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor of the Stam­ford Ad­vo­cate and Green­wich Time. Jbre­unig@scni.com; 203-964-2281; twit­ter.com/john­bre­unig. JOHN BRE­UNIG

It’s Fri­day morn­ing and Amer­i­cans are pro­cess­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh’s sur­vival of sex­ual as­sault ac­cu­sa­tions to ad­vance to a con­fir­ma­tion vote for U.S. Supreme Court jus­tice.

The Cen­ter for Sex­ual As­sault Cri­sis Coun­sel­ing and Ed­u­ca­tion feels like the ap­pro­pri­ate place to be right now.

Staff mem­bers and vol­un­teers spend their days and nights help­ing sur­vivors move for­ward af­ter be­ing at­tacked. They are of­ten the first peo­ple sur­vivors talk to on a hot­line. They meet them in the dead of night in emer­gency rooms. They are avail­able when news events trig­ger distress.

Which makes them tougher than most peo­ple. Tough enough to main­tain poise even af­ter 51 sen­a­tors were more swayed by pol­i­tics than by a woman’s tor­ment. Af­ter Don­ald Trump took the tem­per­a­ture of an au­di­ence and felt it was the right time to break out his new third-grade in­sult comic rou­tine im­per­son­at­ing a woman’s ac­count of sex­ual as­sault.

The pres­i­dent mocked a woman who tear­fully re­called de­tails of her claim that a Supreme Court jus­tice nom­i­nee drunk­enly at­tacked her when they were teenagers.

You can’t stand back far enough to truly as­sess the big pic­ture.

But that’s what we’re try­ing to do at The Cen­ter’s head­quar­ters in down­town Stam­ford Fri­day. When Chris­tine Blasey Ford hushed the Dirk­sen Se­nate Of­fice Build­ing for four hours dur­ing her tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Sept. 27, ev­ery com­puter in this of­fice was tuned in while staff mem­bers con­tin­ued to work.

“Peo­ple were so im­pressed with her, peo­ple be­lieved her,” says Melissa Gal­la­her-Smith, de­vel­op­ment as­so­ciate for The Cen­ter. “Even the pres­i­dent called her a cred­i­ble wit­ness. And other congress peo­ple and sen­a­tors said she was be­liev­able.

“And then there was that shift.” That shift. They’ve seen it be­fore. The creep­age of doubt in the ab­sence of phys­i­cal proof. This time, though, it was guided by a pres­i­dent declar­ing it “a very scary time for young men in Amer­ica.”

Even if you ques­tion the nar­ra­tive, it makes no sense to abuse Ford.

Marie Cor­riveau, a 24-year-old com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tor, works with young peo­ple in towns served by The Cen­ter: Darien, Green­wich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stam­ford, We­ston, West­port and Wil­ton.

“We teach peo­ple how to be em­pa­thetic, how to be re­spect­ful and how to know and re­spect some­one’s bound­aries,” she ex­plains.

Em­pa­thy, re­spect and bound­aries. Ad­mirable qual­i­ties to nur­ture in the class­room. Elu­sive qual­i­ties in­side the Belt­way.

The tes­ti­mony — and sub­se­quent dis­avowal by Ka­vanaugh and his sup­port­ers — served as a “na­tional mo­ment of trig­ger­ing” for oth­ers who have been reach­ing out to The Cen­ter. On Sat­ur­day, staffers held a ses­sion with a group that wanted a safe space to talk through the news cy­cle.

Progress re­gard­ing sex­ual as­sault on cam­puses is painfully slow. Gal­la­her-Smith was a fresh­man at The Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary when a fel­low stu­dent ap­peared on the cover of Time mag­a­zine in 1991 to share her ex­pe­ri­ence as a vic­tim of date rape.

“There was no of­fice, pro­ce­dure, what to do with the ac­cused and the ac­cuser on the same cam­pus,” she says, re­call­ing that rape whis­tles were dis­trib­uted to fe­male stu­dents.

A gen­er­a­tion later, she has a daugh­ter in col­lege. When mother and daugh­ter were tak­ing col­lege tours, mom would grill guides about coun­sel­ing re­sources.

It just so hap­pens that 1991 was the same year Anita Hill’s ac­count of Clarence Thomas’ sex­ual mis­con­duct wasn’t enough to pre­vent him from be­ing named to the U.S. Supreme Court. For some, Thomas and Ka­vanaugh wear black robes like scar­let let­ters.

“It is so politi­cized that you won­der, do they re­ally not be­lieve her?” Gal­la­her-Smith asks. “Or is it be­cause it doesn’t serve their side?”

I ex­press a con­cern that ver­bal ston­ing of Ford in the pub­lic square could dis­cour­age vul­ner­a­ble sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault from seek­ing sup­port.

Cor­riveau ac­knowl­edges that “it per­pet­u­ates the fear of peo­ple com­ing for­ward. That’s why sex­ual vi­o­lence is so un­der-re­ported, be­cause of that fear.”

She man­ages to find hope. “On the other end, there are peo­ple who are an­gry and want even more to ex­press their sto­ries.”

Af­ter Ford told her story, a post­ing on The Cen­ter’s Face­book page was shared 150 more times than any­thing they pre­vi­ously posted, reach­ing 40,000 peo­ple and draw­ing do­na­tions. “Peo­ple wanted to do some­thing, and this was a way to help lo­cal sur­vivors,” Gal­la­herSmith says.

The Cen­ter re­as­sures sur­vivors they are not alone.

“That’s how things change,” Cor­riveau says, “you talk about it.”

If only ev­ery­one would lis­ten with em­pa­thy and re­spect.

Getty Images

Dr. Chris­tine Blasey Ford at a Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing Sept. 27.

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