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Me Too

September 29, 2018

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Survivor.  The word carries a lot of power.  It’s used to describe people who have grappled with potentially terminal illnesses, those who have lived through horrific car accidents or terrorist attacks or wars.  When we hear the term “survivor” we not only recognize that it refers to someone who endured something, we understand that he or she lived through it.  Living through something doesn’t mean one comes out unscathed; a breast cancer survivor may carry physical scars and emotional trauma.  A survivor of a plane crash may experience guilt and fear.

But no one denies them the right to heal however they need to.  No one questions whether they really had cancer, or whether the plane crash was their fault.  No one suggests that perhaps the cancer or the plane crash wasn’t that bad, that maybe they’re overreacting or being overly sensitive.

I sat down in front of my computer to write this not because I wanted to (I really, really didn’t), but because I felt compelled to.  See, I’m a survivor.  I still cringe using that word to describe myself because I don’t feel worthy of it.  I’ve been conditioned or convinced by a lifetime of living in this society of ours that what I experienced wasn’t that bad.  And I’m usually pretty adept at putting a lid on any feelings that might threaten to escape when a situation comes up in the media or in my life that reminds me of my experience.  Until now.

This time feels different.  Maybe it’s because my assault happened in high school, too.  Perhaps it’s because I have a daughter about to enter the fraught and dangerous waters of puberty.  And possibly it’s that I’m finally fed up.

After all these years, I’m calling a spade a spade.  I’m done convincing myself that what happened to me was my fault, that I had been drinking and I led him on.  I’m finished telling myself it wasn’t really rape because a stranger didn’t force me at knifepoint in a dark alley.  I’m absolutely done lying to myself and swallowing my truth because it might make other people uncomfortable.  And I’m grateful, so very grateful, to women like Dr. Ford whose bravery finally gave me a voice.

Let me be clear: I don’t blindly believe every accusation.  I recognize the reality that false allegations exist.  In fact, I have personally witnessed this with someone I care deeply about and it was extremely traumatic and terrifying for him.  Falsely accusing someone of sexual assault or rape is heinous not only because it damages the accused, but because it gives people an excuse not to believe those who truly have been assaulted.  However, I also understand that at most these false reports represent between two to eight percent of reported sexual assaults, and that even that percentage is likely inflated.  I also recognize that over sixty percent of assaults and rapes are never reported, further weakening the argument that false allegations are common.

Given those statistics, I find it irresponsible and reprehensible that our society’s knee-jerk reaction remains one of doubt when it comes to believing victims of sexual crimes.  When someone is mugged or carjacked, we don’t ask if they’d been drinking.  We don’t wonder if they’re just looking for attention or whether they have a vendetta against the alleged perpetrator.  Yes, we as a society do believe that everyone should remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Kavanaugh isn’t in court, though, he’s essentially in a job interview, one in which the stakes are incredibly high.

What Dr. Ford is experiencing now is precisely why so many victims are afraid to come forward.  Expressions of outright disbelief, attacks on character, attempts to undermine credibility, dragging the accuser through the public court of opinion…all the things she feared have come to pass.  And still she bravely stood up and spoke her truth because the weight of silence had become too heavy a burden to bear.

What I find most troubling about this particular situation are the specific arguments being used in the attempt to discredit Dr. Ford.  “Why didn’t she come forward sooner if it was that important?”  One simply needs to have a basic understanding of the neurobiological and psychological impact of sexual assault and rape in order to recognize the weakness of this question.  “Yes, but her memory is so shaky, how can she be sure it was Kavanaugh?”  Again, one must take into account how assault impacts the recovery of specific details, as well as recognize that with the passage of many years, peripheral facts may become unclear.  What remains, despite any attempts to dislodge it from memory, is how the attack made the victim feel and the identity of the attacker.

Ask me to tell you the date of my assault, the clothes I was wearing, the identity of every person present that evening, and I will be unable to answer.  Attempt to confirm with me the specifics of everything leading up to or following it, I will likely fail to provide that information.  But ask me to tell you how I felt that night or the days following, ask if I have ever been able to shake that memory or the image of his face, and unfortunately I will be able to recount it all.

I am in my forties as I write this.  I was a teenager at the time of my assault.  Ask me if it still matters.  Ask me if I mind the idea of my now 10-year old daughter experiencing something like it.  Ask me why until now I haven’t even told my husband of 20 years, my parents or my sister, my friends.  And ask me what I would do if I found out my attacker was being considered for one of the most powerful positions in our democracy.

But don’t ask me if it happened.  Don’t suggest that I made something out of nothing.  Don’t question my memory, or my integrity, or my decision to remain silent for so long.  I am a survivor, and get to decide when and if I talk about it.  I get to choose how I share my experience.  You know why?  Because I’m the one who had to live through it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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