Opinion | Susan Knopf: Sexual assault before #MeToo
Ask any woman, any girl over the age of 17. At least once, perhaps several times, she endured aggressive sexual advances that made her feel uncomfortable, dirty, violated and bothered her long after the encounter. Researchers report such advances are more likely to happen between acquaintances and go unreported most of the time.
Ask a guy, a friend, your brother, did they ever aggressively press their interests on a girl or woman? Research says they’ll say no. Research indicates about 50 percent of men say they will force themselves on a woman if they think they can get away with it. Generally, men do not acknowledge sexual assault or rape. They don’t believe they have committed such crimes. But the numbers don’t jive. The majority of women report they have been victims of sexual assault, and the majority of men say they have never done such a thing. Researchers find men don’t view nonconsensual sex as rape, even though their actions may meet the legal definition of sexual assault.
Research also shows men, particularly young men, can view friendliness, engaging behavior and sexy clothing as invitations for sex. Compound the confusion with the mixed signals found in movies, television and literature. Researchers found women say “no” when they mean “yes” about 30 percent of the time. (Guys, that still means no means no most the time.)
The question isn’t who’s telling the truth. Rudy Giuliani wasn’t entirely wrong when he said there is no truth. Everyone’s perception colors their recollection of truth. In some situations, we can discover the facts. But we don’t often have a video tape to confirm those facts. So we rely on a person’s memory. Turns out eyewitness testimony is the poorest form of evidence. Some think it should be outlawed!
These nonconsensual encounters are much more likely to occur when the man and the woman have been drinking, or using drugs, as was reportedly the case in both Kavanaugh accusations. The incidents also occur when a man is compromised by drugs and the woman is sober.
We all know Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh spent a lot of time in high school and college partying pretty heavy. It’s well documented by his own statements and the statements and writings of prep school chum Mark Judge. We also know Kavanaugh lied under oath about his partying when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironically, he was thrown a softball question about his school years. He portrayed himself quite differently than when speaking to a Georgetown Preparatory Academy group. He said, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep,” a reference to the famous line “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
The fact neither Kavanaugh nor Mark Judge want an FBI investigation, and that Judge refuses to testify on behalf of his buddy, tells you just about everything you need to know. The fact Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wants an investigation is also telling.
Statistically speaking, it is more likely true Kavanaugh engaged in nonconsensual sexual assault. The fact Ford says she managed to free herself is a piece of luck. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t troubled by the experience.
I had a remarkably similar experience on a date with a family friend when I was 17. When I reported it to my mother, she dismissed me. Nothing happened, but I had nightmares for years. Imagine my shock, years later, when this guy and his parents showed up for Thanksgiving dinner. I asked Mom how could she invite him? She again waved her hand, “Oh you’re still worried about that!?” My mother was a fine person, but in the 1970s there was so much denial.
People persist with the notion Ford should have reported the incident. Decades ago such a report probably would not have been taken seriously, and likely would not have been properly investigated. What would she report? She says she was cornered in a room, tossed onto a bed, her mouth covered and Kavanaugh tried to undress her. Was she beaten? Physically harmed? Raped? No. It’s not likely any charge would have been pursued by law enforcement. There was nothing to report. According to Villanova University research, it would be typical for Ford to have continuing feelings of fear, self blame, shame, depression and feelings of victimization.
It’s darkly comical Republicans want to belittle the experience, some even suggesting Ford is mixed up, confused with someone else. Not impossible, but not likely.
As a society, we’re just beginning to grapple with post traumatic stress syndrome. In the past, if a soldier suffered in battle, we urged him to buck up. Now we realize this well-intentioned encouragement is actually dismissive, and does not help the person heal. After a battle one soldier might experience post traumatic stress and another might walk away unscathed. Today we do not diminish the suffering of one soldier simply because another did not share the same experience.
I remember someone told me he was bullied at prep school. At a social evening with his former classmate, the classmate said he never experienced bullying at the school. Both experiences are true. Both occurred at the same school and in the same years. One experience does not invalidate the other. It is not either/or.
This concept is well established in counseling. So it surprised me when a physician friend texted me stating she did not know who to believe. Statistically speaking, it is likely Ford and Kavanaugh’s accounts are both true. Kavanaugh, then drunk, victimized a 17-year-old girl. Today, unscathed by his debauchery, he has no recollection of the event. Christine Blasey Ford has wrestled with that night much of her life. Research confirms victims of acquaintance assault generally experience shame and do not report their trauma for many years, if at all. About six years ago, Ford finally revealed the assault in couple’s therapy, and the therapeutic notes were made available to reporters.
The “#Me Too” movement is helping us acknowledge these unwanted and humiliating incidences. We are beginning to comprehend these encounters are ubiquitous. We are starting to appreciate these advances are unacceptable. Hopefully we can all move forward, begin to support victims, educate perpetrators, bear witness and stop tolerating these behaviors which make us all less human.
Bottom line, Kavanaugh is interviewing for a job. I’d much rather see him judged on his judicial record, which is not Supreme Court grade. Check him out at CivilRights.org where his judicial record is carefully reviewed. That said, Kavanaugh’s life will not be ruined if he fails to win appointment to the Supreme Court. No one seems very concerned about Merrick Garland’s failed bid. With this much turmoil, most candidates would withdraw their names. Why is Kavanaugh so important? He’s the only candidate who has written a law review article stating no sitting president should be charged with any crime. Kavanaugh is the one guy who could save Trump’s neck if special prosecutor Robert Mueller charges the president with breaking the law.
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.
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