How Evelyn Yang's Me Too Moment Highlights the Ways in Which Society Mishandles Sexual Assault

This past week Evelyn Yang, a former executive at L’Oreal and the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang came out about her experience with sexual assault in a moving story on CNN. While her story is moving and striking at the same time, what stuck out to me were the responses to her story and the reality her story tells of the Judicial system.

The Story-

In 2012, while Evelyn was pregnant with her first child, she was groomed and sexually assaulted by her ob-gyn, whom she had trusted with her body and her child. Yang expressed how, as a pregnant woman, there are few resources when it comes to the medical side, other than your doctor; therefore, she and many other women don’t question their ob-gyn’s. For Yang, what started as inappropriate comments and unneeded appointments ended with her sexual assault. Like many victims of sexual assault, she attempted to compartmentalize her emotions and ended up reflecting shame onto herself. Months after the assault and birth of her child Evelyn ended up receiving a letter from her doctor's practice stating that he had left the practice. After looking up the doctor online, she discovered another woman had accused him, and thus Evelyn came forward, and so did a number of others. In the end, the doctor pled guilty on two of the nine charges against him, and as part of a deal, lost his medical license but was only registered as the lowest level sex offender.

The Problems-

The main problems which arise from this story come from both the response and the ending to her story. What Evelyn’s story illustrates is how even a man accused by 18 women on nine charges can get off easy, because it’s always a question of he said she said. This is also a commentary on the judicial system as Evelyn’s doctor was prosecuted by the same DA, which was lenient on Epstein and failed to prosecute Weinstein. While the legal system is supposed to protect and prosecute in many cases, including Evelyn Yang’s, nepotism, and patriarchal beliefs are so deeply embedded in our government and culture that justice is not served.

 This is seen from the responses to Yang’s story, which question the truth in her statement and the reasoning behind it. Yang expressed in her interview how spending time with her husband on the campaign trail has both made her more comfortable with the media and allowed her to use her privilege to express her story. Despite this, many both in the professional press and through social media comments have questioned her motives in connection to her husband’s campaign. The problem with these sentiments is that in many cases of women coming forward about sexual assault and rape, their motives are questioned as a way to dismantle the message behind their accusations.

 It is hard enough to come forward about these issues due to the shame that's pushed on victims, yet now even strangers are questioning the victim's realities. Similarly, it is common in these situations for those with no experience to insert themselves and question the victim. One comment I frequently saw through the comments on articles on Yang, were people questioning whether or not it happened based on her reaction to the assault. Yang expressed how, while the main assault occurred, instead of screaming or running, she froze, like a dear in headlights, and instead tried to distract herself until it was over. Most people assume in the face of any assault they would defend themselves, yet the reality is you have no choice in your fight or flight response, many victims freeze up because it is a situation they are not prepared for. As a victim of physical assault, I know how hard it is to snap yourself out of the paralysis that takes over your body in the face of trauma because your body knows it is safer to freeze up until everything is over. At the end of the day, it can be hard to understand trauma if you have never experienced it, and no one should make assumptions about how they would react.

The Lesson-

Similar to other stories of sexual assault, Evelyn's shows us just how much our society needs to work on to adequately protect victims. By constantly questioning and assuming the worst, victims are only being re-traumatized, which undermines a government meant to serve and protect its people. This also extends to our culture, which is rooted in ignorance and privilege and consistently chooses the perpetrator over the victim. When our society and government get to a point where they believe and protect every victim, women and those without privilege will be able to live without fear. This idea extends past sexual assault to racially motivated crimes, domestic and child abuse, and many other forms of violence perpetrated on the underprivileged.