A Culture of Silence

Why are we surprised when people don’t speak up about sexual assault?

Hearing the negative sound bytes, reading the doubtful tweets have left me stunned; Why are some people looking at Dr. Christine Ford as a calculated opportunist, rather than a brave women who has just now found her voice?

Oh wait, I know why, but this…

Have we not learned anything from the Catholic Church? Schools? Hospitals? Our government? The military? Prisons? Olympic doctors? Penn State?

It can’t be both ways. We cannot question the integrity of a survivor, because his or her story is inconveniently late, yet see that same behavior happen every day. A stable of sexual assault survivors coming forth, sometimes years later to bravely recount their painful story.

It’s just not right.

Here’s some disturbing math: According to rainn.org, in the U.S. alone, 321,500 estimated sexual assaults occur yearly. Of those, 2/3 go unreported with roughly 214,333 unreported cases a year.

In the 36 years since Kavanaugh’s alleged assault against Dr. Ford, about 7.7 million sexual assault survivors have not reported the crime.

7.7 million. And yet, people seem to think Dr. Christine Ford is a unicorn. Or opportunist.

If you are one of the 7.7 million, know this. No one has the right to judge, question or second guess your intent or timeline to go public.

But they do.

Especially when it threatens a person, institution or agenda they are trying to protect.

I cannot imagine the suffering a sexual assault can cause. But I can see why so many cases go unreported. Look at what happens when they are. People challenge or minimize. They discredit and disrespect.

Even people in our highest elected offices lack the decency to not cast doubt.

As a direct result, the problem becomes compounded. And the life-changing moment you wish you could forget, will now forever change the course of your public life.

Exposing this pain to the light gives that moment cancer, and it starts growing. It grows into your private life, your career. It calls into question your wardrobe choices, your Instagram posts: every sexual partner you’ve ever been with.

It grows to question your state of mind, or how many glasses of wine you had (please restate for the record, was it two or three?). It creates a twisted story of every smile, every laugh, every innocuous signal you may have been sharing before things just went so wrong.

The cancer is further metastasized inside a courtroom by shrewd defense lawyers, the accused and defense witnesses who look to spread it.

They pull out the drawers of your life and throw the contents on the floor; then neatly repack it all to fit their narrative. They put your crop tops on top, for the world and jury to see.

Cancer fucking sucks.

So rather than spread the disease, it gets repressed. They try to deal with it as a personal matter, for fear of spreading it even more.

So it stays there, under their supervision. Dormant, yet delivering suffering to the core of their being. Anger. Frustration.

When they see their attacker living his or her life so effortlessly. So removed from that moment, it becomes unbearable.

But life pushes the days forward. First one, and then another, and soon a year. Then five. For better or worse, life gets in the way of many things, including our pain.

Maybe 15-year-old Christine Ford was planning on reporting right after, but needed a bit of time to process. Maybe she was worried about her high school reputation, or going up against the full blockade of a privileged young prep schooler being groomed for greatness. And hastily previewed in her conscious the lengths his family would presumably go to protect him.

And hurt her.

Could she risk surfacing those painful feelings before she was 18? Before marriage? Motherhood? Ever?

And perhaps that extra time introduced doubt, or a sense of gas-lit complicity in those moments when she played judge and jury in her own head. When she anticipated arguments if she ever went public with the accusations.

Maybe she was simply processing what had happened. And before she knew it, her world became filled with college acceptances, jobs, marriage, mortgage, kids, life insurance, mammograms and all the other game pieces of adulthood.

Where does a 10-or-20 or 36-year-old sexual assault fit into an established life?

You write a letter, because you could never bear seeing someone who did this ascend to the highest bench in the land without doing something. Even something small. You cannot in good conscience allow him to make laws for all women to abide after what you know he did to you.

The pain is fresh. Seeing him on the news every day, knowing what you know, is.

It just is.

Fuck.

You put it all on the line. You know what will become of the genie.

It will all be in full view: Your sexual past, integrity, your future, your safety, reputation, your place in history. It will all come under scrutiny: White lies, past relationships and wardrobe choices.

You do it. Not for the notoriety or to sabotage due process on a political whim. It’s because you can’t bear the hypocrisy, it eats at your soul more than the cancer does. So you upend it all and completely change the course of your life, and the life of your family. Not short term, but long term.

That is the price for going against powerful, morally corrupt men.

You risk the teases, taunts, death threats that are not just directed toward you, but are directed at your children, your family. The most important people in your life.

You want to protect them. You want justice. Why must they feel mutually exclusive?

You move out of your house and hire a lawyer and upend your life. You kill your social media accounts, and change your phone numbers. You cut off family and friends, and apologize for the turmoil.

This painful moment from your past is no longer tucked away, only to surface in safe places like your therapist’s office. It’s now out there for the world to twist and editorialize to fit their motive.

Would anyone risk that much for politics? Would you?

But you push through the turmoil and confusion, because for you, at this moment in history, it’s the right thing to do. And oftentimes, doing what’s right, comes at with a high personal price. One that Dr. Christine Ford began to pay as soon as she went public.

I don’t begin to know the true pain that comes from sexual assault. But I do empathize with why so many remain silent. No one wants to relive a painful moment. And no one wants to especially relive it while their honesty and character is being questioned by middle-aged men in suits.

I cannot imagine a more devastating pain.

As we go further into this week, remember, there are only a handful of people who know the truth about this incident from 36 years ago. And the optics around the timing are continuing to be manipulated. But think about Dr. Ford’s side.

Is she gaining more by doing this, or not? Is any political agenda worth this pain, or must it come from a deeper, more truthful place to risk so much?

Dr. Christine Ford is brave, and she has shown her willingness to give up the life she had, for the life she believes in.

And for that she deserves to be treated with dignity, not suspicion.

As all survivors do.