By: Allison O’Brien
Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will go before the Senate judiciary committee on September 24 to testify that he is innocent amidst an accusation of sexual assault.
The claim comes from Christine Blasey Ford, an academic psychologist at Palo Alto University in California. She claims that Kavanaugh and a male friend “corralled” her in a bedroom at a house party in the 80s. According to Ford, Kavanaugh pinned her to the bed, groped her, ground against her, tried to pull her clothes off, and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Ford claims that Kavanaugh got away when his classmate jumped on the bed and knocked them over.
Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, states that Ford considers the assault to have been an attempted rape.
The accusation came the day before Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme court.
Following the accusation, Kavanaugh issued a statement through the white house that read, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Reports of the accusation were given to Senator Dianne Feinstein in late July, but were only revealed to Democrats on the judicial committee last week.
Now, Republicans are criticizing the decision to withhold Ford’s accusation until the day before Kavanaugh’s confirmation as an attempt to delay his confirmation hearings in light of the midterm elections.
The high price of coming forward
People are questioning the validity of Ford’s accusation as a last-ditch effort from the Democrats to halt Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Ford has received a slew of death threats as a result of coming forward. Her and her children have had to leave their home in Stanford. Her email has been hacked and she has been impersonated online.
This is all in light of a greater conversation about supporting survivors and creating a survivor-centric approach for those who experience sexual violence.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women defines a survivor-centric approach as a method that “seeks to empower the survivor by prioritizing their rights, needs, and wishes.”
Needless to say, death threats and questioning the validity of an accusation does not constitute a survivor-centric approach.
A Student Perspective
Our Turn, a national student movement to address sexual violence on university and college campuses, takes this a step further by recognizing that everyone, regardless of their gender, can experience sexual violence and can choose to self-identify as a survivor.
“By creating a safe campus atmosphere that is supportive of survivors – students can support individual survivors as they go through the recovery process which can include acceptance, being believed, feeling safe and getting involved in sexual violence prevention and support advocacy.”
According to Our Turn’s National Action Plan, 1 in every 5 women will experience sexual violence while studying at a post-secondary university. Of those who experience sexual violence, 90% do not report to authorities due to stigma and fear of recourse.
Let’s apply these numbers to a small university such as UPEI. In 2016, 3,975 students were enrolled in four-year programs. If we assume half of these students were women, that means 397 women would experience sexual violence during their undergrad. Of those 397 women, only 40 would report what happened.
357 stories would go untold.
It’s not hard to imagine why 357 women wouldn’t report to authorities when they see what happens to survivors such as Christine Blasey Ford.
When we disbelieve victims of sexual assault, when we blame them, when we question them, we also silence them.
Let’s recommit to believing all survivors of sexual assault.
Photo by: Drew Angerer/Getty Images