By Vernon A. Williams
The 11 white men averaging 69 years of age who comprised the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had no idea how hurtful their callous dismissal of a woman’s pain would be to millions. What is worse, they could not care less.
Millions of Americans stopped what they were doing on the morning of September 27, 2018, as Christine Blasey Ford, PhD, accused the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault when they were in high school. There was the hope that there would be justice and vindication for a female victim transformed into the culprit.
For many of the people watching or listening to Dr. Ford’s emotionally wrenching testimony and Judge Kavanaugh’s emphatic denial of any wrongdoing, the effects were palpable and painful on a very personal level. They knew her misery – their own reflected in her courageous testimony.
“My chest tightened, my stomach tied in knots, and my body went into a guarded state. It was a physical fear reaction,” says Karestan Koenen, PhD, a leading trauma researcher and a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
Dr. Koenen, who is a rape victim, was deeply affected by what she calls one of the largest public “triggerings” of modern times. The testimony delivered before the Senate Judiciary Committee made Koenen become “angry and stressed.” The overwhelming majority of men can only share such feelings vicariously.
Ford used terms like “anxiety,” “panic,” “phobia,” “claustrophobia” to capsule the nightmare of sexual assault she continued to be haunted by so long after the assault. And it could have made it worse that so many in authority used the number of years passed, as a defense of her assailant – rather than affirmation of her relentless suffering.
What the Senate did in confirming Kavanaugh was undoubtedly a “good ol’ boys” act of support for one of their own. You knew nothing could change the course when they confessed that it did not matter whether Dr. Ford was truthful or not in their decision. Not only is that amazingly hurtful, but it is worsened by women who chose politics over sensitivity to gender, to stamp their approval on the new Justice. Unimaginable.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), an average of 321,500 people (age 12 or older) are raped or assaulted each year in the United States. The vast majority are women who, overwhelmingly, don’t report the incidents.
Estimates of the number of cases that are eventually prosecuted vary widely, but the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey places the figure at well under 10 percent. That means most perpetrators of sexual violence are never called to account, while the women they attack often battle years or decades of psychological and physical symptoms.
No sound-minded American should require an explanation of how gravely wrong this circumstance is and how desperately it needs to be addressed. Every man who has a mother, daughter, sister, wife, aunt, niece, female significant other, friend, colleague or neighbor – every man who has a heart – should be deeply empathetic about this struggle.
“Triggering” occurs when a victim is forced to painfully relive encounters that had long played in the darkest reaches of memory, suffering a sense of helplessness all over again. The Kavanaugh confirmation was a major trigger.
Equally devastating is DARVO (tactics of denial, attack, and reversal of role between the victim and the offender). That happened when Senators, political pundits and government officials at the highest level insinuated that Dr. Ford was the shameful performer in this drama and that the good name of Kavanaugh was unjustly smeared.
The worst came when 45 himself offered an apology for the allegations to which the Supreme Court justice was subjected. An APOLOGY. Meanwhile, Dr. Ford is no longer able to return home because of death threats in the aftermath of her revelations.
Unbelievable. Those who said her account was credible believed everything except her absolute insistence that she was “100 percent sure” her attacker was Kavanaugh. To that claim, they were heartlessly dismissive.
A sad day for women everywhere. A sad day for America. An injustice to female voters – and men who have a conscience – who are duty-bound to avenge the injustice on November 6, and in 2020.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.