I was glued to my laptop for the entire Senate hearing, while attempting to finish writing my book, and went through the spectrum of emotions throughout this process, and will likely continue to wrestle as this public case endures an FBI investigation (limited scope, unfortunately) and a final verdict. The court of public opinion has also been most unhelpful, and I am disgusted with the amount of visceral rage, accusation, and evil being spewed on the interwebs. Personally, I’ve struggled to put into words how I am feeling about the insensitive tweets, threads, and comments regarding Dr. Ford and her decision to come forward. It would be so very rare for a woman even to bother, much less if it meant forcing her family to live in hiding, negatively impacting her livelihood, and potentially tarnishing her reputation.
Sexual abuse, assault, and violence against women thrive in the dysfunctional, symbiotic relationship between SILENCE AND SHAME and PRIVILEGE AND POWER.
It is much easier for people with privilege and power to wonder why people who have been silenced and shamed don’t come forward.
What we’re watching in Dr. Ford’s case, along with thousands of others before this one, is why women stay silent. Repeatedly, the onus is on the victim to prove herself (or himself, in some cases), and defeat a person of more power, with more relationships, and resources. More often than not, the victim is up against a network, not just a single perpetrator, as sexual abuse flourishes when it has community support.
I was sexually assaulted in college, and I didn’t tell a soul.
For a very long time, I blamed myself because I was drunk. Society teaches women that somehow it’s our fault—that we must have been asking for it. The man who abused me was important on campus, and I was not. I was scared no one would believe me. I can’t help but think about all the adults, dorm managers, bartenders, and more, who didn’t mind a bunch of 18-year-olds getting drunk in their clubs. They had plenty to gain from drunk, vulnerable young women, whether monetarily or sexually (in their imagination later, or in real life by their power and privilege). None of this happens in a vacuum.
As a pastor, I have prayed and walked with women in nearly every decade of life who are bound by silence and shame. Some have held on to the secret of sexual abuse or rape for more than forty years. We stay silent because we are afraid of being blamed and ostracized. We are scared of experiencing further trauma, pain, or violence. We don’t want to ruin our reputation if the assault goes public. Pressing charges is a long, often painful process, which is why most women are unwilling to add insult to injury. It’s not worth repeating the event to strangers, for the perpetrator to then receive little to no consequences. The two brave souls I know who did decide to go through the system for justice both lost their job, went into debt, and endured threats. One went into a hospital due to extreme fear and stress, and the other moved to another state to try and start her life over again. Without asking continual questions, encouraging next steps, and walking alongside a woman every step of the way, should she choose to press charges, it rarely happens.
Asking women why they didn’t come forward (or why their parents didn’t come forward, for the love of God) is the wrong question.
There are plenty of good reasons. We need to ask tougher questions of our criminal justice system, the boys’ club mentality that protects men who should be held accountable, and the culture that continues to reduce women to an object for pleasure. We need to pay attention to what we are watching as sex and violence become more mainstream in the media, and demand better from content creators. We need to raise our boys to realize that the world, and everything in it, including women, is not theirs for the taking. We need to hold men to higher standards in their words and deeds. Let’s listen to women when they speak and share, believe them, and honor those who are brave enough to expose an incident that could impose a significant risk to their reputation, family, and livelihood. We could fill every library on Earth with our stories.
For the skeptics, please know that in the case of sexual assault and harassment, it is pervasive, daily, and constant for women. More often than not, it is true.
These are dark days, but we are people of the light, and we have hope that is deeper than our circumstances, a love shared among us, and faith that transformation is possible.
If you are hurting, you are not alone. If you have shared your story, even with one person, for the purpose of healing and helping, bless you, and thank you. We need what you have to give. #whyididntreport
This blog was also published over at www.iridescentwomen.com, a collective of women gathering to discover and release the brilliance in every female. You’ll love exploring their site.