The day after the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, I spent the morning on the phone with the Title IX coordinator from my college. I’d never spoken to her before, but I recounted in excruciating detail the two times men raped me while I was in school. Both times, my rapist was someone I knew well. It’s been more than a year since I graduated. In the spring of my senior year, I let the campus office of sexual and gender diversity know I had been raped, but I didn’t include names, dates or details. That recent Friday was the first time I felt an obligation to share more.
In the days before Christine Blasey Ford testified about Kavanaugh (who denies her allegation that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers), President Trump 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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” It was a ludicrous idea, and thousands of people chimed in online to explain that so many victims — children, workers who fear for their jobs, those abused by close family members, people whose rapists threaten to kill them, those dealing with shame or other psychological torments — are not in a position to report their attackers.
Still, Trump’s rant hinted at a possible way to hold beneficiaries of privilege — who often get away with sexual violence and go on to prosper — to account. If Anita Hill could lay out years-old sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, and Ford could allege in 2018 that Kavanaugh had assaulted her decades before, who’s to say the young men who have assaulted young women like me won’t be up for a Supreme Court nomination (or any other accolade) in 2050? As one friend put it, explaining her terror that our rapists might eventually rise to positions of power, “I no longer have a doubt in the world whose voice matters and whose doesn’t.”
The two men who raped me were children of privilege, and so was I: We all had access to an elite private-college education and the opportunities it creates. With that access comes the ability to report sexual harassment and assault that so many Americans lack. Victims like me have the power to impede the youthful perps’ progress, potentially preventing the next generation of abusers from becoming national leaders. If people like me report as soon and with as much detail as possible, they could place into the record a semi-contemporaneous account of assault that could prevent another he-said, she-said dispute.
Like other survivors, I had my own reasons not to report. I didn’t let myself call the incidents rape until months afterward. In one episode, I woke up to my friend penetrating my sleeping body. (I didn’t see it as rape at the time because he was someone I cared about, and I didn’t want to believe he was capable of such violence.) In another, a man who I trusted pushed through my persistent no’s and said he was going to “turn you straight,” a threat that exploited fears I had discussed with him. I didn’t want to reopen the wounds, especially since I didn’t think reporting to my college would accomplish anything. I’d seen rape cases with much more evidence than mine dismissed. I didn’t know what justice would look like for me.
But it wasn’t just self-preservation that kept me from reporting: A part of me wanted to protect these men. I didn’t want to “ruin their lives,” as many of Kavanaugh’s defenders have put it, even though I struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for two years. At one point last fall, I was so sick I would shove thin books under my bedroom door at night to keep someone from opening it. I lived with my parents on top of a mountain. No one was going to come in. But I couldn’t make myself believe that.
Now I see that reporting has a purpose, even if it’s not about the pursuit of legal justice. The report may be confidential, and the perpetrator may not suffer immediate consequences. But Kavanaugh defenders doubted Ford’s credibility because there was no contemporaneous evidence of any misdeeds. If she’d been able to point to paperwork she’d filled out in the early 1980s, this conversation — and Kavanaugh’s candidacy for the Supreme Court — would probably have ended weeks ago. Reporting an incident as soon as possible puts contemporaneous testimony into the record, in case it is ever needed.
Victims of harassment and assault should create a personal archive; collect all texts, emails and journal entries that reference the incident; record the follow-up conversation, if it’s legal to do so. They should send copies to their school or workplace, their friends and themselves.
Obviously not all survivors have this opportunity, and I understand why many will never report. But I was raped by peers on a college campus, so I don’t fear losing my job or alienating my family if I report them. My phone call with the university was unpleasant enough to send me to bed for the rest of the day, but I have access to therapy. And while there was no guarantee I’d be believed, at least I had a designated person to call — the Title IX coordinator — and knew where my story would be archived. Anyone should be able to report, but survivors with privilege have extra protections when they do.
In an ideal world, no survivors should be responsible for seeking justice against their abusers, which, as often as not, never arrives. But we can still show rapists that we are not afraid to share our stories, to get them on the record. And we can show them they won’t have unimpeded paths to power.
In the moment, speaking to the Title IX coordinator felt awful, but knowing that I’d done it was empowering. Our system says stories like mine don’t matter, and I told it anyway. I told it because, while I don’t know if it will ever help, it could. Very few survivors have the exact kind of evidence that courts look for. But together, our stories tell stories. They speak with each other, against the assumption that survivors will and should stay silent. The more people who report and are comfortable being visible, the more we can empower others to come forward.
There’s nothing I can do to change what happened to me on those two awful nights and the years spent recovering from them. It happened, and a piece of me broke each time. My life was altered forever. My rapists’ should be, too.
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