Last Thursday I didn’t get much work done because I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified. And then obsessively reading everything I could find about it. Okay, I lost more than one day of work.
The next day I was interviewed by a team of college students who were doing a trauma therapy project. When they asked, “What is your greatest clinical challenge?” I immediately responded, “Rape culture.”
That’s probably not what they were asking for, but that’s what it is. By now we’re pretty good at trauma therapy. We don’t help everyone, but we help most people. And the trauma therapy field is on track, we’re continuing to fine tune. Every year we get a little better at it.
The problem is that people get hurt faster than we can heal them. Hurt in ways that shouldn’t even happen. And on a large scale, society-wide. (This goes beyond rape culture to other types of systemic harm of groups of people; the present focus on rape culture is one example.)
I mean, look at last week’s hearing. Judge Kavanaugh’s promoters had already made sure that much of the usual documentation on the prospective Supreme Court justice’s career would not be available for review, in the rush to get him affirmed before people could track down his involvement with torture, dirty tricks, etc. Then when they learned of the sexual assault allegations, they refused to ask the FBI to investigate, and they refused to invite any of the witnesses that could shed light on same. Instead of taking the allegations seriously, they created an untenable “he-said/she-said” scenario designed to preclude determination of guilt. Then in the sexual assault hearing, their nominee, already on record for having previously lied under oath, blatantly lied under oath numerous additional times.
This was not an issue for Judge Kavanaugh’s promoters. They already knew he was dirty. He was their man, and they were going to get him in. Judge Kavanaugh understood this, which is why he felt so free to lie so brazenly.
But the hearing did not go exactly as planned. The problem? Dr. Ford failed to be a sufficiently intimidated or incapacitated witness. She calmly and forcefully detailed the horrific assault she said she experienced at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge. She clearly stated her motives and fears in coming forward, what she did remember, and what she didn’t. Most who watched found her sincere and credible, including experts in sexual assault. Even so, the committee’s majority seemed determined to disregard her testimony and press forward with the nomination.
Rape culture relies on a critical mass in the community to respect and support the power structure that fosters victimization and disregard for victims. I am not the first to point out that the judge’s promoters on the Judiciary Committee themselves exemplified rape culture in their refusal to seriously consider Dr. Ford’s testimony, and in pushing to get what they wanted regardless of any objections or concerns.
Nevertheless – as has been said in a related context – she persisted. And she apparently inspired many others to step forward, as well. The national sexual assault hotline reported over a 200% increase in phone calls. In response to the president’s assertion that if Ford’s allegation was valid she would have reported it at the time, the #WhyIDidn’tReport movement took off, with many thousands of victims posting their own stories and explanations. One woman finally reported a rape by a prominent man, that occurred a decade ago. Other women reported their rapes to a senator on the Judiciary committee. This groundswell of protest led at least to the delay of the confirmation vote, and may (or may not) ultimately lead to rejection or withdrawal of the nomination.
An equality movement has been building for many years, to counter and overcome rape culture. Recent highlights of this movement include the Women’s March, the #metoo movement, and now Dr. Blasey Ford and #WhyIDidn’tReport. Will this be a tipping point? I hope so.