Christine Blasey-Ford, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Pitfalls of Speaking Out

For immediate release, September 26, 2018

Zach Hiner, Executive Director, [email protected], (517) 974-9009 

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.

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  • Loyolaalum Snap
    commented 2018-09-27 08:57:06 -0500
    Related to this is:
    “At first, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) demanded Ford … sit at the witness table alongside the man she accused of trying to rape her.”

    This was the same tactic that Rev. Thomas Smolich (once the highest ranking Jesuit in the United States) used when there was a report of sex abuse involving the Jesuit Charles Connor – have the accuser and accused sit at the same table. The Jesuit Order eventually paid a $7 million settlement in regard to a case that named Connor as a defendant.
  • Tom Fox
    commented 2018-09-26 20:31:21 -0500
    When this current POTUS was running for his position he promised to “Purge the swamp”. The issue of sexual assaults is so deeply rooted in many humans and their institutions that its fair to say that it is a unwritten part of the DNA of not just the United States of America but most countries. While contrary to our Declaration of Independence which purports "All men are created equal, (men/people ??) the question is what do humans actually mean by this patriarchal phrase?
    At the same time, what kind of world do we REALLY want to live in? We are fortunate to be living in a time where technology has been pulling back the curtain on the skeletons which have filled our closets for many millennia. Dealing with our own demons is clearly a painful process. So the questions we need to ask ourselves are, are we courageous enough to move into the future, clearing the swamp of the darkest of human perversions with a fresh sense of righteousness for ALL citizens or will we continue along as we have for kiloyears to abuse the most vulnerable in society and then sweep those narratives under the rug?

    The lifetime appointment to the position of SCOTUS is a decision which’ll affect the DNA of the United States and world for a long time to come, be it on issues of gun laws, the environment, etc. Just as most citizens are required to pass a lengthy interview process, all citizens of the United States have the right to know the mind-set, resume and a TRUE background check for EVERY candidate for the position of the SCOTUS. All citizens should be able to scrutinize and decide whether they are truly comfortable with each candidate to be certain that we’re not being sold a false bag of goods through a hard sell.
    As citizens we often hear of the importance of voting. The fact of the matter is that we do not vote every four years but we are voting every second of our lives. While some moments may appear to take on more gravitas than others, the fact is we’re always casting votes from one moment to another. Let’s make this moment count.
    As for me personally, I do not believe that Judge Kavanaugh is a worthy for a position on the SCOTUS and see him as an integral part of the swamp which we were promised would be purged.

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