A cartoon by Gary McCoy shows a girl on a tricycle riding up to a boy sitting on the sidewalk playing with a toy airplane. She says, “Hi Timmy. Want to ride bikes?” Timmy screams, “Are you kidding?! And lose my chance to serve on the Supreme Court someday? NO WAY!”
This, unfortunately, is how some people reacted after Christine Blasey Ford claimed she was sexually assaulted in high school by Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court nominee.
With stories related to the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault becoming headline news, women who speak out are often urged to shut up and stop whining — or lying. Consider these recent comments from Fox News Channel commentators:
“I think right now men are scared,” said FNC’s Jesse Watters, “and you could get to a point where women are denied opportunities to advance in corporate America because men don’t want to be alone with a woman, don’t want to be in same office as a woman.”
“I’m starting to be concerned that innocent people are afraid of being hurt,” said Tucker Carlson, “and that’s a bad sign. So the question is what are the rules? How do you find out what they are? How do you find out if you’re guilty?”
The rules aren’t that complicated. Bill Cosby knew it was illegal to drug women and rape them. The type of behavior described by Ford, who said she feared she was about to be raped, is not of someone breaking a hidden rule.
Women who are told remain silent about sexual assaults know that to do otherwise means paying a price. It will create tension in the family. Hard feelings in the church. The end of careers (often their own). Unless dozens of other women step forward and say #MeToo, the woman will be blamed and disbelieved.
Take the case of blogger Rebecca Watson, who complained about being propositioned in an elevator. Celebrity biologist Richard Dawkins was not in that elevator but he made a point of saying, in effect, “So what? A lot of things that are much worse happen to women. Watson may have felt trapped, but nothing bad actually happened to her in the elevator.”
Watson wrote about the aftermath. “I’ve had more and more messages from men who tell me what they’d like to do to me, sexually. More and more men touching me without permission at conferences. More and more threats of rape from those who don’t agree with me. ... More and more people telling me to shut up and go back to talking about Bigfoot and other topics that really matter.”
Bad behavior can escalate from the level of “locker room talk.” In 1991, 83 women and seven men were assaulted during the Navy’s 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium in Las Vegas. A decade later, sexual assaults in the military continued to be a problem. Navy Petty Officer Jenny McClendon told an interviewer, “I presumed that I was going to join a group of people who were my comrades. When I got to the ship, it was a while before – was probably a couple of months before we went from harassment to – to the groping, and the groping eventually culminated in several physical assaults and a cou — — a few rapes.”
McClendon in the Navy, Anna Moore in the Army and Stephanie Schroeder in the U.S. Marine Corps each received the psychiatric diagnosis of “personality disorder” and a military discharge after reporting sexual assaults.
In the case of Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh strongly denies her allegations. We must always consider the rights of the accused, which is why Kavanaugh still stands a good chance of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.
Still, it is wrong to start with the assumption that women who report sexual attacks are making this stuff up. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center claims rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. The prevalence of false reporting is between 2 and 10 percent.
The Center estimates one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
The least we can do is listen respectfully to those who speak out.