Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images
On Friday morning, President Donald Trump finally did what many of us expected he would: He directly attacked Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, in a series of tweets. The president — a man accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct, who once bragged about sexual assault — wrote that he has “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 [sic].” He also asked, “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”
Of course, it’s actually quite common for sexual-assault survivors to keep their traumas to themselves — a point women are forced to raise time and time again, every time someone who accuses a powerful man of sexual assault is torn apart in the press, as though the constant attempts to discredit survivors by asking why they didn’t come forward sooner doesn’t answer itself. “Many, many people never tell anybody,” Lynn Hecht Schafran, senior vice-president and legal director for the Legal Momentum women’s defense and education fund, told the Cut.
When Ford first came forward about her experience, privately, in a July letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, she said, “It is upsetting to discuss sexual assault and its repercussions.” She didn’t speak of the assault to anyone after it happened, she later told the Washington Post; it wasn’t until a therapy session in 2012 that she opened up. For most of her life, Christine Blasey Ford suffered in silence. The assault, she said, “derailed me substantially for four or five years,” and an unnamed friend of hers told the New York Times that after the summer of the alleged attack, Ford “fell off the face of the earth socially.”
From the few interviews she’s given, it’s clear that Ford would have preferred to keep her experience to herself. She told the Post that she only decided to go public after the letter to Feinstein leaked, fearing her identity would be unmasked against her will otherwise. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation,” she said.
Why do survivors often keep their accusations private? Women already know the answer to this. We are all too familiar with the ramifications sexual harassment and assault survivors face when they come forward, especially when their assailants are powerful men. We know women often aren’t believed, and our claims are dismissed as lies by those who perpetrate these acts against us. We also know that we risk being retaliated against professionally if we report instances that happen in the workplace. (One study said last year that “sexual harassment has been identified as one of the most damaging and ubiquitous barriers to career success and satisfaction for women.”)
Furthermore, our very lives and those of our family can be placed in danger by damaging smear campaigns led by supporters of the people we accuse (as is happening with Ford, and has happened, on a smaller scale, in high schools throughout the country). In some instances, we not only fear for those closest to us, but also what might happen to those close to our attacker. And in others, we feel such shame and pain, that we end up blaming ourselves for “letting” our attacks happen.
In the wake of Trump’s comments, survivors once again took to social media, recalling their own experiences with staying silent under the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Here are some of their powerful, unsettling responses: