I Believe You, Dr. Ford: A Response to the Brett Kavanaugh Senate Hearing

In the recent wake of sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not victims’ sexual assault allegations should be believed.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely stood before members of the Senate on September 27th, as she relieved a traumatic experience, in what she calls her “civic duty.” Despite the fact that she is a psychology professor, has a recorded history of telling her close confidants of the assault, and has taken a polygraph test, Ford continues to be accused of lying, mistaking her attacker’s identity, and sharing this story in order to further the Democratic party’s interests in limiting the number of Republicans in office.

I believe you. Believe women. Me too.

These phrases continue to resurge in the media as more and more survivors of sexual assault gain the courage to share their stories. In hashtags and protest messages, today’s popular culture has embraced these short phrases in order to characterize support for survivors, and call for social change.

Although hearing stories of sexual assault, especially when the attackers are socially or politically powerful, are not new, it seems as though our society continues to respond with surprise and distrust as stories break. Earlier this week, on September 26th, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in jail in the first conviction from the “Me Too” Movement. Even with more awareness of sexual assault, our society has a long way to go until we are fully supporting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable.

As soon as Dr. Ford publicly shared her story of assault, responses were broken up into two primary categories: one of trust and one of disbelief. Similarly, these two groups seem to be roughly (yet not definitively) aligned with political partisanship: people of the Democratic party seem to be more trusting, and people of the Republican party have appeared to be more likely to doubt stories of sexual assault.

President Trump’s accusation that Dr. Ford’s is a “con game” and his immediate refusal of the validity of her story, before hearing her perspective, reveal that our society has a deeply conflicted nature to stories of sexual assault. Yes, it is easier to assume that everyone is innocent until proven guilty; however, this course of action neglects the pain that survivors have already endured, and the long and arduous process of prosecuting sexual assault may deter survivors from reporting.

“Boys will be boys.” “She’s just exaggerating.” “He’s a good guy.” Senators and figures of the public alike spoke statements like these, along with others, as they discussed Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations. By shifting attention away from the individual, and placing blame on the victim or society at large, our current rape culture continues to be reinforced by government officials.

Rather than assume accused perpetrators are innocent until proven guilty, let’s treat survivors with basic human decency by assuming they are telling the truth, unless proven otherwise.

By publicly sharing her story of sexual assault with the Senate and the world, Dr. Ford courageously brought attention to both issues with Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court and the United States’ rape culture and failure to support survivors. Hopefully, this discussion, along with the “Me Too” Movement, will eventually result in societal change to support survivors and prevent and prosecute sexual assault.

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