Apprehension swirled around inside me, trying to find a place to settle among the stronger, deeper feelings of sadness and anger.
Rebellion and resignation bounced against each other in my thoughts as if they were more alike than different.
The news broke that a woman accused the Supreme Court candidate of sexual assault 36 years ago when she was 15 and he was 17. What she hoped would remain confidential became public. After what seemed like considerable ambivalence, she agreed to appear before the Senate Judiciary committee.
Then it began.
Remembering Anita Hill, the dismissal and the denials in 1991. Esteemed United States’ senators asking her to repeat again and again her humiliation when exposed to the Supreme Court candidate’s graphic descriptions of pornography.
He denied; she was dismissed.
Then it began.
Feeling again, the pain brought back to life when our country elected a President who brazenly bragged about intimately groping women and ogling young naked women dressing for a beauty pageant.
Then it began.
Remembering that date rape and spousal rape weren’t recognized crimes 50 years ago.
Then it began.
The “#metoo” Movement
“Just bad boy talk.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“Girls should be (are) responsible to set limits.”
‘No one will believe me’ #metoo
Last February, Shenna Younger and I partnered with a small group of women and held a forum that we called “Keeping Our Kids Safe.”
The focus of the forum was to bring awareness to the problems of sexual abuse toward and among teens in our community. One of our goals was to begin to break the silence surrounding stories of childhood sexual abuse.
We knew that girl teens were victims of rape occurring on dates in which drinking and drugs were involved. We knew girls were not reporting the assaults.
We knew why.
The girls held a deep belief that they would not be believed; that they would be blamed for being at the party, for drinking or choosing that boy. Even they asked if one or all of those things were “consent,” an open invitation to do to their bodies whatever someone else wanted.
Listen to the voices including the President’s today, mostly male, who support the nomination of the justice wondering why she didn’t report, why she can’t remember the exact date and place yet remember who it was and who stood by. They don’t understand that the place and day were not the trauma.
I asked Shenna, my friend and forum partner who kept silent about her sexual abuse experience as a very young child until last year, to tell me her thoughts.
“My hope was that we as a country would learn, grow and implement new standards from the #metoo movement. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this hasn’t happened. What I see is the same attitude happening as it was 10 years ago.
“For a victim to be believed, it really depends on who is being accused, how many accusers there are, and how significant society views the offenses. The judgment happening and victim blaming and shaming is just unacceptable.”
Ten, 27, 34, 71 and more years ago. Shenna and all the women coming forward or staying silent ask us to say without reservation, that sexually touching at whatever level of an unwilling child, woman and man is wrong.
Valuing politics over cultural dignity
Some of our esteemed senators, men and women, seem inept to be anything but political. Or perhaps, just unable to say out loud that they will sacrifice a woman’s dignity and right to process to install a Justice who will vote their values related to women’s rights.
I ponder underlying meanings.
Is it really possible that the event of a teen sexually abusing another is so accepted that it is forgotten and thought not important enough to justify a related investigation?
Just why is it so monumentally difficult for women to come forward and men to accept that some of them or some teens do craven things to women and girls? The latter informs the former.
It’s not safe.
As we are forced to learn again, certain men can’t get past denial, or if they do, they claim justifiable anger. I am not alone in having learned that rage in another is not safe.
Public pity and empathy are reserved for the young man whose future could be ruined or the older man who could miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Why risk it?
In this twisted universe of power and politics, the woman is asked to prove the abuser did the same to other women. Hers alone isn’t enough. Even with that, the women who come forward are greeted with the same misgivings.
So many of the processes that involve other crimes of violence are simply not applied. Does a victim of armed robbery have to prove there was a wallet to be stolen and other people had their wallet stolen by the same person at gunpoint prior to an investigation?
I struggle with the inevitable conclusion that under all the excuses and manipulation is the terrible truth that women aren’t’ safe and won’t be protected. We won’t be until all peoples join in and say it’s wrong. Until all people demand due and equal process under the laws for the accuser and the accused.
The case of the Supreme Court candidate and the accuser is decades old, too old to be a crime but not too old to suggest character and judgment. Yet, only after a threat to the nomination was a background investigation by trained investigators into the allegations brought forward by the accuser performed.
We don’t know the truth of the stories of the accuser and the accused. The terrible truth is that we may never know and be left with the disturbing sense that one was the victim of a culture and both victims of a process that destroys the dignity of all.
Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.