It seems everyone has something to say about the debacle that has been the Kavanaugh confirmation process and assault testimony. I have not made any assertions of guilt or innocence in this case and I’m honestly disappointed that so many have. The truth is, we don’t know for sure.
In the years that we’ve been married, my husband has said many times that he has learned never to judge an accusation like the one made. He’s had cases that he was absolutely sure the victim was telling the truth and an investigation proved she had lied about the entire thing. He’s also thought there was no way the victim was telling the truth because nothing seemed to add up, but then the accused ended up confessing to the entire thing, or evidence appeared that showed she was, in fact, telling the truth.
Placing judgement without evidence is fool-hardy and dangerous. I honestly don’t know what did or didn’t happen all those years ago with Mr. Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, but I do know that this whole thing has deeply saddened me as I have realized how many myths our society still believes about sexual assault. I don’t want to make this post about the current case in the national spotlight, but I have chosen five myths I have seen spreading that I desperately wish I could get my fellow humans to see differently.
This is one of those situations that, if you haven’t ever experienced it, you will have to be willing to listen and try to understand. I hope that you will genuinely consider these and consider sharing them. We have to do better, America.
1. If it really happened, she would have reported it.
False. There are so many reasons for not reporting an assault. This myth has obviously struck a serious nerve with assault victims, and rightfully so. It’s easy to say, “Well you should have reported it.” When you’re actually in the situation, it’s never quite that easy.
Some potential reasons for not reporting: your attacker threated to harm your loved ones, your attacker is in a position of power and you fear what repercussions there will be, your attacker is highly esteemed in your community and you think no one will believe you, your attacker is a family member or friend and you care about this person and you’re very confused, you’re a child and they convinced you this was normal, you feel guilty because you were somewhere you shouldn’t have been so you’ve convinced yourself it was your fault, your attacker convinced you it was your fault, you mentioned it to a loved one or friend and they responded by blaming you or not believing you so there’s no way you’re telling strangers, the thought of trying to testify against your attacker is more terrifying than letting it go, and the list goes on and on…
On a personal note, the assault I have referenced in the past was sadly not my first experience with this, but it was the only one I reported. I only chose to report this one because he said he wanted to become a police officer. A man like that should never have a badge. I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t done all I could to try to keep him from being able to use authority to do that to some other girl. Many times throughout the process I wished I hadn’t put myself through it. It’s awful. I don’t wish it on anyone. I don’t blame anyone for avoiding it after they’ve already been through so much.
Bottom line…not reporting it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
2. If it really happened, she would remember everything.
False. That may be true. Some victims remember every awful detail vividly. Others coped by shutting down and they have no recollection of the actual events. They had to in order to survive. Most will remember some parts vividly and others they shut out. Every human copes with trauma differently. There’s no standard way that any victim should be or behave. I have vivid memories of parts of the assault. My last vivid memory of that time period was when I had to recount every little detail to the agent working my case. I was there for hours going through every moment of it again and again. I remember walking out of that office and after that, I completely broke. I have almost no recollection of the weeks the followed. I moved half way across the country and I have absolutely no memory of the move. I couldn’t even dress myself. Doctors said my brain was just trying to protect itself from the trauma, but it was a very dark time in which I only survived by medication and I lost whole weeks of my life I will likely never remember.
Bottom line…just because she can’t remember, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
3. It’s not like she was actually raped. It’s not that big of a deal.
This one really gets me. This is the worst. Unfortunately, it’s not just our society that feels this way, but our justice system as well. If there’s not “penetration” then it’s a relatively minor offense. It’s really no different than punching someone in the nose. For some reason “penetration” is seen as the threshold at which the true damage takes place.
I’m going to be very blunt here because this angers me greatly…no rape victim ever spent the rest of her life trying to get over her wounded vagina. Sure, there may be physical wounds, but physical wounds heal. The damage is in what was taken without consent…what was forced on you…loss of control…fear…guilt…shame…worthlessness…vulnerability. You don’t have to have penetration to do that kind of damage. Once you’ve forced someone to do anything sexually against their will, the damage is done.
I have had the honor of getting to know many victims since 2014 and several of whom have experienced both rape and “unwanted touching.” (That phrase pisses me off to no end. Sounds like your mom made you hug Aunt Bertha when you were five and you didn’t want to because she smelled bad. Not some dude forced himself on you and you spent the rest of your life in counseling or on meds because you didn’t know how to be ok again. But I digress…) The overwhelming opinion among these victims is, there’s no difference. In fact, several have said their “unwanted touching” incident was even more traumatic than the rape they experienced.
Bottom line…you don’t have to be “raped” to be a victim or have life-long damage.
4. We have to believe her because we want to empower victims.
False. But this one is tricky. The reality is this…in every assault that is reported there is a victim. Regardless of whether or not the assault took place, there is still a victim. Either the accuser is a victim of assault OR the accused is a victim of the false accusation. Unfortunately, in most cases, the two of them are the only ones who will ever know for sure which of them is the victim.
If you have a loved one who comes to you makes these claims, please support them and assure them that you believe them. Please help them get help. Help them heal. Keep them away from situations where they may have to be around the person they say attacked them.
If you have a loved one who claims to be falsely accused, please support them and assure them that you believe them. Keep them away from the person accusing them. Help them cope with the damage done. There’s no harm in this. Loving someone and helping them through a difficult time can’t hurt. But encourage them to heal, not to focus on hurting the other person.
If you’re on the outside and you don’t personally know either of them…STAY OUT OF IT. Unless you’re the investigator on a case or an attorney for one or the other of them, or on a jury, it’s not your place to say who’s telling the truth. YOU DON’T KNOW. As long as you are not silencing the victim or spreading lies about the accused, you don’t have to “believe” either one of them. But we shouldn’t automatically “believe” either party because what if we’re wrong?
Bottom line…blindly believing someone isn’t empowering them…allowing them the freedom and opportunity to speak for themselves empowers them.
5. False reporting almost never happens, so we need to side with the victim.
False. Sadly, this is a widespread problem. There have been numerous cases my husband has worked in which the “victim” was found to have been lying about the whole thing. I’m not talking about not having enough evidence to prove or disprove. I’m talking about proof they straight up lied. And he’s one investigator. In one town.
This one angers me, too, because it’s a slap in the face to every true victim. I wholeheartedly believe that if you can be proven to have brought a false allegation of sexual assault, you should go to jail. It’s not a game. It’s not harmless.
Just as there are many reasons for not reporting, there are many reasons people file false reports. Some of these include: they regret having had sex with this person and need to feel better about it by saying they never really wanted it, they were caught having an affair and need to cover it up, they want the morning after pill, they are in an ugly custody battle, they are a kid who got pregnant and doesn’t want to admit to a parent they willingly had sex, they’re a military member who wants to get moved to another base, etc.
Bottom line…false reporting is a very real and awful thing and is harmful not only to the accused, but to legitimate victims everywhere.
I could go on for hours on this, but these five have bothered me most the past several days. It’s fine to have your own opinions on what did or didn’t happen in a situation, but be careful when you share them and please stop perpetuating these myths. I believe you’re good people and you don’t want to inadvertently do more harm to those already struggling. When in doubt…love. Extravagantly.