For the past few weeks, the news and social media have been dominated by the confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court by the president—and by sexual assault allegations made against him by Christine Blasey Ford and others. I won’t recap those allegations here, other than to note that some of them are about things that happened decades ago.
In our nation’s hyper-partisan political “debate,” those allegations have become the latest iteration of women speaking out about sexual assault, and what we as a society think about that. At this point, the lifelong appointment of a Supreme Court Justice—one of the most impactful actions taken by any president—seems almost peripheral to that conversation.
Decades ago, I was the subject of a years-long and secret sexual assault perpetrated by my father. I am 52 years old, and this is the first time in my life I have ever named him publicly. I’m doing that now because #metoo.
Do I have proof? None whatsoever, unless a lifetime of PTSD and its fallout—self destruction, addiction, broken marriages—can be entered into evidence. Spoiler: It can’t.
Do I have witnesses? None whatsoever.
Are there people in my family who even now will not believe me? You bet your ass. Are there people who would line up to defend him, to say they “just can’t believe” he would ever do such a thing? I’m positive there are.
I was entirely silent on this subject for the first 20 years of my life, speaking to no one about it. After that, it became something I spoke about with a very few people that I trusted, and even then, those conversations were fraught with tears, with a lump in my throat and knot in my stomach that I feel even these decades later, writing about this from a safe position in which no one has assaulted me in that way for 34 years.
I’ve spent my entire adulthood learning to cope with the lifelong ramifications of that sexual abuse, which have fallen to me, not to him, including the idea that it was somehow my fault, and a lifetime of shame over actions that I did not take and have no reason to be ashamed of. That is the legacy of sexual assault.
The statistics are staggering and shocking, with some estimates saying that one in every three or four people you meet have been the victim of some type of sexual abuse. Let that sink in: It is an issue that crosses party lines, economic lines, ethnic lines and gender lines.
Over the years, as I spoke to people about this more and more, the single most common reaction that I have heard from women has been “me too,” and it was no surprise to me—or, I suspect, to most women—when that emerged as the defining hashtag of this movement of women speaking up after a lifetime of staying silent about something that affects so many of us.
Having said that, sexual abuse is not a “women’s issue,” as it also affects many men, as seen in the ongoing scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. Many of those boys stayed silent for decades for the same kinds of reasons that I did.
Why don’t we want to talk about this stuff as a nation, or a society? Easy. Flip those numbers on their head and it becomes obvious that has to mean that the perpetrators of those behaviors walk among us daily, our fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, pastors, coaches. There are women perpetrating such crimes as well, but in far fewer numbers. To tackle this issue in any serious way requires women and men to own the ways we perpetrate a dysfunctional culture that looks the other way when sexual assault happens. Who wants to own it? Nobody. Why? Because #metoo. That means we would have to do something about it, to think about the ways we raise our sons and daughters, and the ways we perpetuate a mindset that finds it easier to look away than to confront what is happening.
Sexual assault is woven into the very fabric of our society, running the gamut from unwanted advances to full-blown “forcible rape,” an infuriating phrase.
My personal takeaway from the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh has been a feeling of impotent rage. Nobody but those people who were in the room know what truly happened, and I’m not saying I do. I am saying that I found the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford entirely believable—and that if nothing else, the past few weeks have illustrated to me precisely and painfully why so many women keep silent about sexual assault, even for decades, and why so many of us now feel compelled to stand up and say to the world, “This happened to me, too.”