Donald Trump, who was elected to represent every single American in this country regardless of their race, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status, began his day by attacking a woman who has come forward to report sexual assault. Leave the Supreme Court nomination, the division between Republicans and Democrats, and all of the conspiracy theories being tossed around out of it. That’s what it boils down to: the president attacked a woman for coming forward about a sexual assault.
While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is just one case, it does not exist in a vacuum. Whether or not anyone is completely convinced by either side, the narrative being put forward by Trump and his supporters attacks more than just one woman. It attacks, offends, and discounts the voices of every sexual assault victim in this country.
These endless questions about why victims don’t report ignore the facts. Reports do not matter and never have. Only six out of every 1,000 sexual assault reports end in jail time. For the other 994, there is a survivor left without justice who has been retraumatized and disbelieved. Only 63 percent of all sexual assault survivors report to police.
For many survivors, including the writer of this story, the grooming to remain silent around sexual assault begins in early childhood or adolescence. Twelve percent of all survivors of sexual assault had their first experience with that violence before the age of 10. Another 30 percent have their first experience with sexual assault before the age of 17. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), those child victims are often revictimized as adults. This is also true for the writer of this story, who first experienced it before starting kindergarten.
‘More than one-third of women who report being raped before age 18 also experience rape as an adult.’
The experience and aftermath of trauma also contributes to a lack of reporting and cannot be qualified. It also lasts far longer than the assault itself; in most cases, it lasts a lifetime. The writer of this story is now in her 40s and is still in therapy and struggles with periods of depression and anxiety.
Since reporting sexual assault is so uncommon, the numbers are truly impossible to gauge. However, using the best tools available, the NSRVC estimates that one in every five women and one in every 71 men will experience rape in their lifetime. When adding in attempted rapes and other forms of sexual assault, the numbers may actually be astronomical.
Survivors of sexual assault sometimes do tell others. Often, they recount being disbelieved, shunned, victim-blamed, and having those traumatic experiences minimized. Today, the president of the United States contributed to that, not just for Dr. Blasey, but for every victim who has been too scared, too traumatized, or too sure of being disbelieved to report.
Trump’s mention of “date, time, and place” references doubts already part of the social conversation in which Dr. Ford is being discounted. She struggles to remember, after a lifetime of trying not to think about the assault, exactly where the house she was in was located, or what exact day and month it was. That is not uncommon.
According to Time magazine:
‘It is not reasonable to expect a trauma survivor – whether a rape victim, a police officer or a soldier – to recall traumatic events the way they would recall their wedding day. They will remember some aspects of the experience in exquisitely painful detail. Indeed, they may spend decades trying to forget them. They will remember other aspects not at all, or only in jumbled and confused fragments. Such is the nature of terrifying experiences, and it is a nature that we cannot ignore.’
The writer of this story, for the record, remembers very few details of her assault other than the very clear memory of her attacker telling her to “stop crying.”
There are far better questions that can help us to understand the complex issue of sexual assault. Why is this still happening so often and to so many people, both male and female? Why are survivors’ stories being so quickly discounted? Why are rapists being given a pass so often by police, political leaders, and the general public at large?
One sure way we will alienate survivors and therefore never truly address the issue of sexual violence is to ask, “why didn’t she just report it to the police?”