This isn’t just about Christine Blasey Ford. To end rape culture, we need to believe survivors
President Donald Trump doesn’t believe it was that bad for Christine Blasey Ford.
If having Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly push her into a bedroom, get on top of her, put his hand over her mouth, and try to yank off her swimsuit was that bad, she would have reported it 1982. Right?
Wrong. This attitude is reflective of rape culture. And today survivors and their supporters walk out on that.
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, along with the Women’s March, Time’s Up, Planned Parenthood, and others have organized a walkout in support of Blasey Ford — a moment of solidarity for survivors.
At 1 p.m. Monday, people across the country are set to walk out of classrooms, offices, and their homes, to post messages with the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors. In Boston, NARAL Pro-Choice America is inviting people to meet at the State House steps.
They aren’t just walking out for Blasey Ford. They are walking out for Deborah Ramirez, the second woman to publicly voice allegations against Kavanaugh. They are showing solidarity with the survivors who so often aren’t trusted, the survivors who are blamed and shamed. The survivors of sexual assault and rape who are forced to prove they were victims of a crime.
This walkout is for them, for people like Tori Bilcik, who did not report. The 23-year-old was not much older than Blasey Ford when she was raped in her home while her father was in the house.
She was 17 and an aspiring music journalist. She knew a guy in a band. She invited him to her makeshift recording studio at home to interview him.
“I said no several times,” she said. “I cried. I gave all of the signs that I did not want this to happen and it happened anyway.”
Looking back, she said, it was fight, flight, or freeze.
“I froze,” she said. “I felt like even if I got away I would still be in trouble, that somehow it was my fault.”
She told two friends the next day in class.
“They looked me in my face and said, ‘I don’t know what you expected to happen.’ ”
It would be a long time before she ever spoke of it again, but she did confront him.
“ ‘I thought you liked it,’ ” she said he told her. “ ‘I’m sorry. I thought you were playing hard to get,’ ” he insisted.
It was a denial of wrongdoing. He chalked it up as a miscommunication. It was demoralizing.
Her focus now is survivor support. She and Delia Harrington, her friend and a fellow survivor, have planned a Boston vigil in solidarity with Blasey Ford and Anita Hill at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall Plaza.
The mission is to provide a safe space for survivors to share their stories and seek peace in a system obsessed with the gory details but not the healing or justice.
Corydon, a member of Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s Survivors Speakers Bureau, said the first step in fighting rape culture is believing survivors. And holding space.
“I am a transgender survivor,” said Corydon, 37, a vigil speaker. “I was born a woman but now identify as a trans guy. A lot of groups are not as represented in conversations of sexual violence. Sometimes we only support survivors we are comfortable supporting. We need to support all survivors, male survivors, survivors of colors, indigenous survivors, nonbinary survivors, undocumented survivors, incarcerated survivors. You can’t shame and stigmatize one group and support another.”
The walkout is for Corydon, who at 21 experienced two sexual assaults in the span of six months.
“There’s the myth that when you experience sexual violence once you meet your quota in life,” he said. “The first time I did not report. I was scared and young and the person who raped me knew where I went to college. I was terrified they would be able to harm me further. You will never know the fear I felt. I would check under the bed and the closets,” Corydon said.
The second time, Corydon was assaulted by someone he trusted. He touched him inappropriately and exposed himself. Corydon pressed charges. But it wasn’t easy.
“The detective was very hostile to me,” he said. “He asked had I done anything to give the individual the idea that it was OK. There will always be someone who will say why didn’t you call the police. It’s hard. Imagine being 15 and having to do that. It only sounds easy to people who never have to do it.”
There are institutional barriers that prevent survivors from coming forward, said Andy Rubenstein, one of the lawyers at the center of the case against the University of Southern California and former campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall. Lawsuits claim that Tyndall harrassed, abused, and molested patients for decades before he was fired by USC in 2017.
Rubenstein, of Houston law firm D. Miller & Associates, initially filed on behalf of 51 current and former students spanning 30 years. More than 340 women have filed since.
“There is a generational arc of silence,” he said. “We see it at USC, we saw it 30 years ago with Anita Hill, we are seeing it in Congress now, and I am sure big business is no different. There are no pathways and protocols that allow people a safe place to discuss it. There’s a lot of headwinds of social bias and blaming and defensive attribution. People say, ‘well I wouldn’t have put myself in that situation.’ ”
When someone is robbed, he said, we don’t say they are confused. But in cases of sexual assault, everything is upside down.
It takes a lot of courage to step forward, Rubenstein said. Even for the anonymous clients.
“Anonymity doesn’t diminish their claims in any bit,” he said. “Sometimes the blowback is overwhelming and they get re-traumatized.”
We’re seeing it with Blasey Ford. She’s had her life threatened, her email hacked, she’s in hiding and the president insinuated nothing too bad happened to her. But many people were not having it. Friday, shortly after Trump’s tweet, #WhyIDidntReport saw thousands and thousands of people sharing their own stories of why they didn’t come forward.
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Samantha, a 38-year-old Arlington woman, is listed as a Jane Doe in the case against USC. But she said seeing the stories of #WhyIDidntReport is giving her more confidence to speak out.
“When the leader of the free world -- who is supposed to be commander-in-chief and the person we look up to -- is doubting her, when he is questioning her experience, it makes me feel like he’s questioning mine,” she said. “I shouldn’t feel embarrassed. The president dismissing this kind of thing brings how institutionalized slut-shaming is to the surface.”
She’d just graduated high school in Fitchburg and moved across the country to USC for what was supposed to the best time in her life.
“USC was a very expensive school,” she said. “I chose it because it promised the best of everything, football, film school. There were so many advantages and resources but when it came to the most valuable resource — my safety — they totally failed miserably.”
She went to campus clinic for birth control. She wasn’t sexually active and had never seen a gynecologist. But a classmate with a pregnancy scare was enough for her to be proactive.
“I was nervous and completely undressed with a robe around me, laying on the table with my feet in stirrups. He busted the door open and clapped his hands. He started the breast exam and it was taking an extremely long time. He was pinching, cupping and squeezing my nipples. He made a comment about the size of my areolas. I said I gained a little weight. He said the weight was going to the right place while squeezing my breast.”
He performed her pelvic exam with no gloves, penetrating her while commenting on how good she looked from that angle, she recalls.
“I knew something was off,” she said. “I knew it was creepy. It was completely humiliating. But I didn’t know it was criminal.”
She started going to Planned Parenthood for her exams from then on, and soon learned nothing that allegedly happened at that first exam was the norm. But she tried to joke it away.
“I thought how is it going to affect my career and what will people think?”
But in the wake of #MeToo, things changed. Women were coming forward and starting finally to be heard. As women started to come forward against USC, Samantha knew she need to take action.
“Now I feel brave and OK to talk about this because there is an outlet and I’m not the only one,” she said. “I feel awful there was another 10 years of women after me, but there was no way, no mechanism, or reporting process or someone to go to. The subject was more taboo then. The onus is always on the woman.”
The #BelieveSurvivors posts and walkout are for Samantha and every survivor burdened with having to prove themselves, judged for how they survive.
Is there no way in this country to investigate without shaming, blaming, and dismissing the victim?
Trump isn’t the only nonbeliever. He isn’t the lone vulva grabber. He’s simply a reflection of this country’s deeply rooted rape culture. We can walk out on that. And we have to get our hands in the dirt, dig up the problems, and plant seeds of change to clear the path.