He is dead.
And yet he is still alive for me.
He is so alive that, even now, I hope my relatives don’t read this, and if they do, I hope they don’t try to put the puzzle pieces together to see his image.
Because they are #WhyIDidntReportIt.
In the last week, women and men who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of others have started doing what they haven’t been able to for years and decades: admit something unfair and awful and damaging happened to them.
Just search for #WhyIDidntReportIt, or variations of that hashtag, and their stories will come barreling at you as confessionals, some containing only bits of details and others spilling out in their complete and painful-to-read messiness.
There is a lot of self-blame. One tweet reads, “because I didn’t say yes but I also didn’t say no.”
There are also a lot of displays of protective instincts. Another reads, “They were both my stepfathers. My mother loved each — until she divorced each. . . . Protecting her was more important than anything.”
I have read hundreds of these now, letting myself be pulled along by the intimacy in them. They leave the sense of looking at a car crash on the side of the road and seeing someone crawl out of the wreckage. You hope that person is okay. But you can’t know for sure.
These stories are of course coming out in response to Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh climbed on top of her, put his hand over her mouth and tried to remove her bathing suit when they were teenagers in high school. Another woman, Deborah Ramirez, has also come forward with claims that during a drinking game, he thrust his penis in her face when they were students at Yale. On Wednesday, a third woman, D.C. resident Julie Swetnick, released a sworn declaration through her lawyer that describes Kavanaugh as present during a gang rape of her in 1982.
Kavanaugh has denied the accusations, and among his supporters is President Trump, whose administration has characterized the women’s claims as a smear campaign.
Trump this week dismissed Ramirez’s account, saying she was “totally inebriated and all messed up.”
Of Ford, he earlier tweeted, “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.”
Each #WhyIDidntReportIt confession is a defense of how people can remain silent following these personal violations for years and decades for so many reasons.
Because they were 5.
Because it was their father.
Because they needed that job.
Because they had been drinking. Because they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Because they were embarrassed. Because they didn’t want to be called a slut. Because they loved that person. Because they loved people who loved that person.
So many women and men have now come forward that the list could go on for pages, and that collectiveness no doubt tells us that things need to change in our society on multiple levels, including how families talk about these issues and how courts handle them once they are brought forward. But equally telling are the reactions of doubt and dismissiveness many of these confessions have evoked.
These are the people I find myself thinking about most.
How was life so gentle to them that they can’t accept it was so brutal in a moment, or in many moments, to others that those individuals chose silence over screams?
Or maybe it wasn’t gentle at all. Maybe because of their own demons or deeds, the silence is more comforting to them.
I am not a person who believes every sad story. I find myself, even when I try not to, looking for inconsistencies in narratives and possible reasons a person might lie. Does this person gain something from being seen as a victim? I have asked myself while reporting and while talking with friends.
I don’t know whether Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick are telling the truth or have other motives for coming forward. Ford is expected to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, and more about that night will be revealed then.
But I know this: Just because someone doesn’t talk about an incident for years doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. And too many people are now talking for us to pretend this is just about politics.
I was maybe 8. A handful of children and I were playing in a bedroom when a man I trusted sat on the bed and started tickling us. Our relatives were in the next room. It felt safe. It felt fun.
And then it didn’t. He pulled me on his lap and shoved his hand where I knew it shouldn’t go. I looked at him, expecting him to say it was an accident. Even if it was a lie, it would be an acknowledgment that he knew what he did was wrong. He smiled instead.
I walked out of the room and sat in a rocking chair right outside the door. Say something, I thought. Shut up, I also thought.
In retrospect, I didn’t fear that if I said something, I wouldn’t be believed. I feared that I would be believed and the truth would cause a rift among people I cared about. And so, I chose to say nothing and keep my distance from that man.
Years later, I found out he had done much worse to someone else. Her story is hers to tell. But I can tell you this: When she spoke up, not everyone believed her.