By Prarthana Mitra
At the centre of the still-unfolding Kavanaugh confirmation spectacle, is no longer the pile of transcripts from his old rulings, nor the Roe vs. Wade verdict he is sure to overturn if the Republican Supreme Court nominee makes it to the country’s top legal bench.
Brett Kavanaugh now faces a sexual assault allegation from Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who teaches at Palo Alto University and has struggled with decades of trauma from the incident which took place when Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School. While Republicans have all come out in support of their bastion, whose election to the court is necessary for the future of the party, the smear campaign on Ford for not coming out with her story sooner than the eleventh hour has managed to kindle another social media movement. The weapon this time is a hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, and it has found overwhelming support from women all over the world as well as Ford’s immediate circle (including Palo Alto mayor who confessed to being sexually assaulted 50 years after the incident).
A shocking but unsurprising reminder of why sexual violence so often goes unreported. In a world where 1 in 3 women have experienced gender-based violence, there's an urgent need for global reforms to ensure justice for all survivors. #WhyIDidntReport https://t.co/BxIA0RAgPS
— ActionAid UK (@ActionAidUK) September 24, 2018
First, the sheer volume of (uninvestigated and hitherto unaddressed) testimonies surfacing on Twitter begs a serious question, about the efficacy of social and punitive justice, that often fails the victim in their pursuit of redress. In Ford’s case, the frankly horrific details, albeit sketchy due to repression and passage of considerable time, were first brought to Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein’s attention, who tried hard to maintain the victim’s anonymity for as long as possible. But the much loved and respected psychology professor was compelled to come out just as Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings were nearing a very inconclusive end. She spoke to The Washington Post saying her “civic responsibility” was “outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.” Several Republican senators have also stood up against his confirmation and delayed the hearing because, despite the deplorable victim-shaming and disbelief stemming from the US administration, there is ample proof to suggest Ford is not actually making this up. She passed a polygraphic test and she has discussed this with her therapist back in 2012 when Kavanaugh wasn’t even in the running for SC judgeship. 50 of her old schoolmates wrote an open letter, claiming, “Dr. Blasey Ford’s experience is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.”
But the problem lies with disbelief being our knee-jerk reaction to testimonies like these. Studies say that most women have been molested or assaulted at least once in their lives, and most of them choose to remain quiet about it because it is easier for the society to doubt their claims than investigate and support wronged women. There are various other reasons for hesitating to embroil oneself in a difficult confrontation such as this, from fear to shame and even internalised guilt. Women also do not want this accusation to stick to their lives and career, and be defined by a single experience which is actually someone else’s criminal act.
US president Donald Trump took time to respond to the situation but when he did, he made sure he accused the victim of falsehood, because according to him, she should have come forward with her account in the 1980’s, when she alleged that a drunk Kavanaugh pinned her down, muffled her cries and tried to disrobe her at a high school party. The women in his administration who serve as Trump’s aides and senators rubbished her claims as well, leading to this viral Twitter storm as thousands of women now came forward to address why women are reluctant to talk about their trauma.
4 things about the Kavanaugh hearings:
1) as a child, I was molested by 2 teenaged boys
2) when I eventually told someone in my family, they didn't believe me
3) my heart races, I feel ill as I type this, DECADES later
4) I believe Christine Blasey Ford#WhyIDidntReport
— alex villasante (@magpiewrites) September 24, 2018
#WhyIDidntReport is slowly transcending its implications within the ramparts of the American senate, and regardless of whether Ford will be called in to testify, it is turning out to be a timely successor to the glass ceiling-breaking #MeToo movement, in more ways than one. Perhaps this will, in turn, create a system where voices of sexual assault victims are heard and believed.
— Slate (@Slate) September 24, 2018
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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