"Why Didn't They Say Anything?" the Culture of Victim Blaming
by Karina Le | published Oct. 24th, 2018
After the end of the Kavanaugh case, there needs to be a discussion about victim blaming and our culture regarding sexual assault allegations — especially after the media's treatment of Christine Blasey Ford.
For those unfamiliar with the case, Brett Kavanaugh was a judge President Donald Trump nominated to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. However, while he was still being processed,
As the case unfolded on television, one question came to mind. How many survivors of sexual assault saw this case and were unwilling to report after seeing victims so publicly slandered?
Sadly, this case parallels one that happened nearly 30 years ago in 1991. Anita Hill, after years of harassment by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, felt it her civic duty to speak of her experiences when he was nominated. After she was interviewed privately, Hill also had to public speak in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee — a tale that now sounds sadly familiar.
Since the start of the accusations, For has been questioned ruthlessly about the validity of her experiences. She endured it all — from being discredited due to not remembering the exact date her assault happened, to being mocked openly by the president himself. A photo — not of Ford — has been used to discredit her as well.
“The photo is often juxtaposed next to Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook photo with text implying or overtly stating that it is implausible he would have targeted Ford,” wrote Eli Rosenburg for The Washington Post.
First off, there is no trend of attractiveness for people who have been victims of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re pretty or not. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re more likely to be raped. The real statistic is that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. It doesn’t change the fact that we can’t even trust these statistics due to the lack of reports in cases like these. It doesn’t change the fact that it has happened, and will effect the victim for the rest of their life.
It’s a hard topic to understand if someone hasn’t experienced it, or doesn't know someone who is willing to talk about it. The media occasionally perpetuates the myth that most sexual assault allegations are faked, which is entirely false. Many people have misconceptions about how assault and rape can affect someone.
One of the biggest questions that people ask a victim of a sexual assault case is why didn’t they report it sooner. Michael J. Stern, of the Chicago Tribune, noted the reasons.
"[V]ictims of sexual assault often do not make reports because they are embarrassed, fear they will not be believed, and do not want to relive their trauma by recounting it to a jury of 12 strangers," he wrote.
Many victims fear that no one will believe them, or think it was their fault in the first place. Some cases do end positively. Take for example Teri Hatcher, who after being raped by her uncle when she was five, was able to testify against him in court back in 2002. He received a verdict of 14 years of prison. However, cases like Jane Fonda's are what people fear the most. In an interview with Brie Larson, Fonda discussed her trauma.
"I’ve been raped, I’ve been sexually abused as a child and I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss ... I always thought it was my fault; that I didn’t do or say the right thing," Fonda said.
For some people, they just can't understand what it really means to be at that age and be in that position, and to feel that fear. A recent hashtag, #WhyIDidntReport, has attempted to explain this concept to the rest of the populace. The tag popped up in the light of the Kavanaugh case, and from the backlash Ford received for being unable to remember the time and date she was assaulted. “Why didn’t she report it?” was a question Ford had been asked over and over again.
The #WhyIDidntReport tag tries to answer it in an amalgamation of stories people have experienced, and explanations to why they didn’t report their cases to the police. Coverage of this hashtag was accurately summed up by The Breeze.
“[O]ne victim was five years old and didn’t understand ... [Another’s perpetrator] was their father ... [a] boyfriend. [Victims] were told it would publicly ruin a man’s life. They were told it was probably a misunderstanding ... the hashtag in and of itself proves how, despite a man or woman’s experience with sexual assault, [the system asks] victims ... to justify their silence to create a sense of validity,” wrote Sabrina Moreno.
America's culture instinctually attacks victims instead of seeking truth. Often victims are questioned extensively about the event, and even one slip up can cause a case to break apart — even if they stuck to their story 100 times before.
Aimee Kidd, in a Wyoming Public Media article, discussed this idea of culture affecting victims coming forward. “I think the culture is just so much 'well what were you wearing? And how much did you have to drink? And why weren't you smarter? And you should have made better choices.' And it's so easy to victim blame. My eyes were opened in such a way because I finally understood," she wrote.
Although reporting sexual assault crimes have been increasing, it is still the most under-reported crime. An estimated 63 percent of cases go unreported. Even when they are reported, however, sexual assault cases are particularly hard to prosecute, explained the aforementioned Wyoming Public Media article.
“‘[One] of the biggest frustrations about being in this job is knowing something occurred and not being able to prove it,’ said [Albany Country Sheriff Dave] O’Malley. When it comes to investigating sexual assault a medical exam oftentimes provides the only physical evidence. However, victims don’t always come forward right away, so that evidence isn’t always collected,” wrote Kidd.
However, despite the struggles victims have, there are still people supporting them. Paula Hilman, the detection chief superintendent for the Public Protection Branch of the PSNI, has been starting a campaign called “#nogreyzone” as a means to raise awareness on sexual consent. There are more reports coming out, as well, after events such as the #MeToo movement and the #WhyIDidntReport tag. People are learning to come out, and try to trust in the law to do them right. This will mean better statistics, and more cases that may dissuade some of the more prominent myths in our culture. If we have a diversity of understanding about these cases, we can come to empathize with victims who have to carry these crimes for the rest of their lives.