Opinion: Believe Her
By Lauren Cole, Guest Columnist
Author’s Note: Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of their sexual identification. However, for this piece I focus on those who identify as women in relation to the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.
One of the most valued and critical aspects of our democracy is the ability, in a court of law, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty–the burden rests on the government and the prosecution to prove that a crime has been committed by the defendant. In his op-ed, my peer is of course correct in claiming that the evidence against Judge Brett Kavanaugh is circumstantial, and because the assault occurred over three decades ago, she cannot offer physical proof of the assault. However, the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice is not a criminal trial. The Constitution states that members of the Senate are expected to provide advice and consent to the President regarding the qualifications and character of an individual expected to serve on our nation’s highest court. My objection does not lie in Judge Kavanaugh’s ability nor his right to defend himself. I object to the blatant disregard for the women who have come forward to tell their painful stories and the way in which they are being stripped of their legitimacy before even appearing before the Senate.
Even suggesting that these women are lying perpetuates rape culture: we normalize, objectify, victim blame and suggest ulterior motives instead of hearing their trauma. Just as we would not challenge the validity of a mugging or a robbery, we must hold cases of sexual assault to the same standard. Questioning the intent and honesty of Dr. Christine Ford and Deborah Ramirez is an affront to every woman who has had the astounding courage to tell their story, and this sets the progress made in the #MeToo movement back significantly.
Women experience rape every two minutes, and we live in a society where two out of every three sexual assaults are never reported–not because the survivors are timid or unsure of their abuse, but because our culture and our justice system renders a woman’s voice useless. We look to protect the perpetrator’s personal and professional reputation for “20 minutes of action” (as stated in the Brock Turner trial). According to statistics recently presented by Congressman Joe Kennedy III, for every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk free. In disregarding the survivors, we are sending messages to young women that their pain is irrelevant, their bodies belong to their attackers, and their silence is more valuable than the truth. In questioning their motives, responsibility is pushed onto the victims, making it nearly impossible for women to step forward with their stories. In silence, you choose compliance. You become an active participant in the rape culture, which forces women to fear for their rights, safety, and lives.
Dr. Ford, who was wrongly referred to as ‘Ms.’ repeatedly in the original op-ed, has been vilified due to her allegations. As a research psychologist and statistician at Stanford University School of Medicine, she is a professional woman who has risked everything to tell her story. She is not coming forward to ruin the reputation of Judge Kavanaugh, nor does she wish to ruin his career out of partisan differences. Dr. Ford has not come forward for personal gain; she has received numerous death threats as a result of her decision to speak and has been forced to leave her home. Dr. Ford’s story will not “make a mockery of the entire US governmental system” by denying a seat “on the High Court due to one uncorroborated, unproven allegation.” She believes that her experience yields information that the American people, and the Senators responsible for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation have a right to know regarding a man who has the ability to make landmark decisions concerning the rights of women for generations to come. By prioritizing Judge Kavanaugh’s career above Dr. Ford’s story, it devalues her very existence, suggesting his role as a judge is more important than her life.
I cannot speak for every woman who has experienced sexual violence, but I can speak for myself. When a woman tells you that she has been assaulted, believe her. When you support her, you are also standing with millions of other women, some of whom you know, who feel silenced by a society that tramples not only on their right to speak, but to be heard and to feel safe as a human on this earth. So, yes. Listen to the entire testimony. Please watch Dr. Ford step forward and tell her story, because it may be the second hardest thing she will have to live through. Please, listen to Judge Kavanaugh defend himself as it is his right as an American. And above all, please, when your sister, best friend, roommate, or anyone else in your life tells you that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them.
Addition: For those who have experienced sexual violence, you are never alone. If you need support, please call (800) 656-4673 to speak with a 24-hour counselor.