Brett Kavanaugh vs. an Argument for Belief

As of this Wednesday, three women, Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, have come forward against Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, according to The New York Times.

Each woman has received both criticism and praise for coming forward with their stories.

Many arguments have been made as to why they waited until now. Why not report the attack immediately after it happened? Why wait 30 years to come forward against one’s accuser? There really is no answer.

Dr. Maddy Coy, a women’s studies professor at the University of Florida, said there are many reasons survivors don’t report their attacker. Some of those are unique, and others fall into categories.

“By far, it's the fear of not being believed,” Dr. Coy said. “Victim blame goes on, and it can be overt.”

Each survivor’s experience is their own. Each survivor’s choice to report a crime is their own. In the United States, rape is the “most under-reported crime, with about 63 percent of cases going unreported to the police,” according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center.

Ford’s letter was leaked after she had decided not to come forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh, deciding that the backlash would be too strong against her family and herself.

Dr. Coy said that there are different kinds of reporting, like telling a friend or a professional. However, the fear of not being believed is so strong in survivors that men and women can spend years dealing with their attacks on their own.

“Part of what we see in the backlash confirms the fears in many survivors that they aren’t going to be believed,” Dr. Coy said.

Starting around 2017, the #MeToo movement began to gain speed for women in Hollywood to report sexual abuses against them in the industry. On Sept. 25, 2018, Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Cosby is the first of the abusers from the #MeToo Hollywood movement to be put in prison.

There were strides made in 2017 for the belief of survivors, yet now it seems we have once again taken a step back. When Ford came forward and confirmed her accusations against Kavanaugh, within 24 hours, a list of 65 women came forward signing a document saying that they never saw or experienced any sort of sexual misconduct from Kavanaugh. The letter only mentions how Kavanaugh treated women and nothing explicitly denying Ford’s claim, however, that’s exactly what it implies. Sixty-five women — some of whom are from Ford’s town — deny her claim that she was sexually assaulted. This is a clear obliteration of belief and a perfect example of why survivors don’t come forward against their attackers.

The #MeToo movement served as an act of solidarity and security for the women who came forward against their attackers. Yet just a year later, there are 65 women who have come together and decided to put in writing their disbelief of another woman’s experience. No one can blame men and women for not going to police or administrators with their experiences if there are numerous public examples where people are not believed and instead scrutinized.

Supporting survivors in a public setting is vital in that it will allow for more survivors to come forward with their stories. When we publicly shame and diminish someone’s experience, we extend that message on to our roommates, our classmates, our best friends. The idea that sexual assault is a “he said, she said” situation is a false notion.

Yes, people are innocent until proven guilty. But shouldn’t the survivor be given the same privilege — to be believed until the claim is found false? Survivors shouldn’t have their lives dragged through the mud because they’re reporting someone you support. The notion of belief is incredibly important in encouraging survivors to come forward.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, there are many avenues to report it or seek help. At the University of Florida, there is the UF Office of Victim Services, a victim advocate service provided by the UF Police Department to offer emotional support. If you would rather stay away from police, there is also GatorWell, the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) and U Matter, We Care services on campus. Alachua County also provides some services: the Alachua County Crisis Center, Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center and more. All of the aforementioned resources and their phone numbers can be found here on the university’s Title IX resource page.