Last Friday morning, President Trump tweeted: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local law enforcement authorities by either her or her loving parents.” Even more recently, he and others have virulently attacked another woman who has come out stating she was assaulted by Kavanaugh in college, again she didn’t tell anyone for years what happened.
Let’s disarm this myth here and now. Delayed reporting of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse—or not reporting it at all— is the norm, not the exception. These situations are very common and should be expected.
Victims of these horrible crimes often wait years, even decades, to report what happened and not just to the police, they often don’t tell anyone at all, not even friends or family. Victims sometimes do not report their experiences at all because they don’t trust authorities or the public to respond appropriately.
As children, we are taught not to speak without permission, do as we’re told and don’t contradict adults. When we acted up we received a negative response – punishments, scoldings, detention, grounding, etc. Whatever the response, we also learned fear and shame because of what happened.
Today, our culture continues these fear tactics in our treatment of sexual assault victims. Often, people’s first response is to doubt what they are hearing, question the victim’s motive, discredit their character, and work to poke holes in their story. Some even go so far as to question their mental stability, like the President and other high-ranking politicians and journalists are doing to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Due to power inequities and especially when the alleged perpetrator is someone famous or holds some measure of power, when a sexual assault victim comes forward, the response they often receive is blame, scrutiny, and denial.
Ford did not come forward earlier because she was terrified of the response – and she was right to be afraid. Since coming forward with what happened to her, Ford has been forced to relocate herself and her family from their home due to death threats, online harassment, and hate mail. Through this example, America’s own leaders are giving victims a reason to continue to stay silent.
It’s time to shrug off the beliefs that have been built up through years of constant myths, misinformation, victim blaming, and rape culture. We need to learn to respond appropriately to disclosures of sexual misconduct and assault. We are all responsible for changing our own beliefs and modeling healthy behaviors for others. Sexual assault prevention is possible and we have to start now.
As a community, we must intervene to stop concerning behavior, call out misogyny and oppression, and create and strengthen policies. Most importantly, we must support survivors by believing them and helping them to find the resources they need to move forward. While all of these tasks seem insurmountable, we are making progress and are determined to continue on our collective journey by giving that power back to survivors. We stand up against those who abuse their power and the systems that protect them. I invite everyone to join us in our mission by using their voices, actions, and choices to look past what we thought we knew, challenge the norms that have contributed to sexual abuse and oppression, and work to end sexual violence.
If you, or someone you know, is a victim or survivor of sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, harassment, or other forms of violence – either as a child or an adult – it is important to know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. Women’s Resources is here for you, 24-hours a day 7 days a week: 570-421-4200. If you would like to schedule a speaker to come to your organization, club, place of business or church, please contact the Prevention and Outreach Coordinator at 570-424-2093 ext. 130.