Questions I Have after the Kavanaugh Hearing

Warning: This article contains information about sexual assault, rape, and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors. The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Her Campus or Her Campus SMU.

 

With the recent sexual assault accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, the now-confirmed Supreme Court Justice, by Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, I have had sexual assault on my mind even more than normal. On my runs, walking across campus at night, even walking through a parking garage with my friends. The main questions bugging me have been: how would someone prove a sexual assault occurred in a court of justice? Is the misogynist fear of being falsely accused of sexual assault a legitimate fear? In situations such as the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing, who should be believed? If it happened to me, what would I do?

I have come to the following conclusions.

 

Image Via Safeline

 

1. How would someone prove a sexual assault occurred in a court of justice? I'll say it as it is: it can be extremely difficult. The beauty of the United States justice system is that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty, but it also can allow for guilty people to walk away as innocent. Of the rapes that are committed, few are actually reported, fewer go to trial, and even fewer are proven guilty. Legitimate allegations can be tossed if there is no witness or no DNA evidence, as those are the main two forms of evidence in these cases. In fact, juries are 33 times more likely to convict if there is DNA evidence. Even when a person is convicted of sexual assault or rape, their sentences are light, such as the case of Brock Turner. It is unfortunate, but at times it feels like the justice system is not in our favor as women. All things said, don't let this discourage you if you are a victim of sexual assault. Simply coming forward and filing a report, even if it never makes it to trial, can establish a history. According to RAINN, many sexual assaults are part of a pattern, and there is a chance that they have done it before or will do it again. 

 

Image Via PBS News

 

2. Is the fear of being falsely accused of sexual assault a legitimate fear?  The above image of Summer Zervos, who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault during the show 'The Apprentice' was publicly called a liar and sued for defamation after coming forward against Donald Trump. I often wonder, why would a woman come forward to lie about something like this? More often than not, the woman's reputation is smeared as she is called a liar or even victim shamed. It absolutely infuriates me that men legitimately will respond to a woman's accusation of sexual assault with an immature quip of their fear of being falsely accused. Until men have to worry about walking back to their car alone at night, leaving their drink unattended, jogging with earbuds in, checking their backseat when they get in the car, or walking across campus in the dark, I think it's safe to say that the fear of being falsely accused of sexual assault is a childish retort to a real fear that women face. Here's an idea: treat people with respect. If you really think I'm being dramatic, here's an informative graphic: 

 

Image Via The Enliven Project

 

My point is that the fear of being sexually assaulted is WAY more prevalent than the fear of being falsely accused of sexual assault. While being falsely accused of sexual assault can cause a very real impact in one's life, the purpose of the infographic is put the fear of being falsely accused in perspective, not to diminish the impact it has on an individual. This infographic also does not include men who have been sexually assaulted. So, while the fear of being falsely accused is legitimate (i.e., it has happened before and probably will happen again), it should not be used as a response to a woman reporting sexual assault because it minimizes the problems those who actually have been falsely accused and at the same time affects a woman's credibility by grouping her report with false ones. If men don't want to be accused of sexual assault, then all they should have to worry about is not committing an assault. Honest men who treat women well are very unlikely to be falsely accused.

 

Image Via Texarkana Gazette

 

3. In situations such as the Kavanaugh/Ford hearing, who should be believed? This point in particular has been so difficult for me. On one hand, I want to believe the woman in this circumstance, because many women choose never to come forward because of the victim blaming that often arises in these situations, shame they feel over it, fear of the repercussions, or fear that they, like many women before them, will not be believed or have their reputations affected by coming forward. On the other hand, I know that a person is innocent until proven guilty according to the justice system, but with that comes a whole other set of things to account for: how many people are wrongly incarcerated, and how many people are wrongly set free? I suppose that is the problem with an imperfect world; sometimes bad people get away with doing bad things. However, I can say with certainty that I truly believe the accusations when multiple women accuse against the same guy because sexual assault is many times part of a pattern. Look at Bill Cosby, for one, with 60 accusations of sexual assault, or the USA Women's Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was criminally charged for 10 out of 265 women coming forward. It is beyond heartbreaking in these instances that your word is not enough, but I understand that the system cannot take "he said-she said" as evidence. To the people that question why didn't she come forward earlier? Going through the difficulties and oftentimes heartache of reporting a sexual assault may not be worth it to the victim, however, when the perpetrator is in a position of power or moving into a position of power, it becomes important to share their story. If we recognize that many more victims of rape are telling the truth than not, then we should realize that we should believe the women who speak up about assault.

 

Image Via Refinery29

 

4. If it happened to me, what would I do? There are many steps that can be taken to ensure that you can back up your report of sexual assault with evidence. Immediately after the sexual assault has occurred, seek medical attention. Even if you haven't been physically injured, going to the hospital and getting a rape kit done not only can help find DNA evidence but also is free of charge by law. Furthermore, if you do not wish to file a report at that moment, you will receive a code to use if you decide later that you want to report. Other tips include not bathing, showering, cleaning the area, using the restroom or changing clothes until after the sexual assault forensic assessment is completed. These tips can be crucial in preserving DNA evidence. 

If you have been a victim, SMU has free counseling services where you can get the help to sort through your trauma.

While these topics are extremely difficult to discuss, it's incredibly important to know what to do if it ever happens to you. I do not believe that this is a man-problem, despite what my previous rant may make it seem like. I think it is a culture problem. Broken homes, broken people, broken systems all contribute to the issues of society. Until we can fix these, our culture in America will be rampant with issues that need real attention from politicians and leaders. 

These tips come from RAINN.org