CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR
Content Warning: This piece mentions rape and assault.
Rape is the most underreported crime in the United States. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it is estimated that under 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, even though one in every five women in the United States and one in every 71 men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lives.
On Oct. 2, President Trump hosted a rally in Mississippi. Amongst the crowd of “Make America Great Again” hats and ‘Build the Wall’ posters, Trump spoke about the issue of reporting sexual assault. More specifically, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony accusing then Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexually assaulting her in the summer of 1980. The President, in front of a crowd of thousands, mocked Dr. Ford, sending the message that those who speak out and come forward with their trauma are not to be trusted, and are bumbling accusers who “don’t know” about what actually happened to them.
In an offensive imitation, Trump mocked Dr. Ford, saying, “How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” His mocking was met with applause and laughter from the audience. The most powerful man in America stood in front of a crowd of thousands and said to the world that what Dr. Ford did was wrong. He sent the message that every survivor of sexual assault, if they were to speak up, should just sit down and shut up. The crowd cheered, and the President was met with applause.
Around the country, individuals who have experienced assault were met with the crushing reality that speaking up is seemingly useless. That if an individual does report, they will be subject to the same mocking that Dr. Ford experienced. The reality here in the United States that is, by speaking up, you are subjecting yourself to the storm of ridicule and distrust by every level of society; even that of the President.
The most pressing issue that this represents is not contained in the words that the President used, but rather the message that those words implied. To entertain the idea that survivors of sexual assault are not to be trusted and that they are acting to damage the reputations of those that they accuse is a perfect example of sympathizing with aggressors. That is a tactic that Trump seems to do very well, as seen with his lack of explicit condemnation of the killing of Heather Heyer by alt-right neo-nazis during a riot in Charlottesville, Va. in August of last year.
Instead of dealing with the victims of a crime in the manner in which they are entitled to, we have created a culture that perpetuates the notion that to speak out is itself a crime; that by speaking out, survivors are wrong. I cannot think of any other crime in which victims face systemic barriers to prove that their traumas actually happened, while simultaneously being subjected to extreme scrutiny and mistrust in regard to violence toward themselves.
This culture of skepticism and distrust associated with those who speak up in the face of sexual assault is perpetuated by instances of victim shaming, such as the actions of the President at his rally in Mississippi. The clear message of illegitimacy and distrust was ingrained into every fiber of their being, solidifying the notion that to speak up and report is to be met only with resistance. More importantly, when victims do report, they are met with accusations that what they have experienced has not actually occurred. In reality, false reports only account for around 2 – 10 percent of all reported rapes, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
With the upcoming midterm elections, it is difficult to see a way for our political reality to improve. It seems as if we, as a society, have reached such a low point that change is so far away and hope seems to have vanished. However, in the storm of vile and hateful comments by the President and his supporters, it is imperative to recognize the works of millions of people across the country who fight to dispel the idea that victims of sexual assault are not to be trusted. It is the work of movements such as #MeToo and the Women’s March that remain as beacons of hope in this dark political climate. The presence of strong individuals speaking out about their traumas and refusing to be silenced has served as an example to many others. It serves as encouragement for survivors to come forward and to know that despite the backlash that they may receive, there is a community of survivors behind them that will support them.
Although victims of sexual assault face incredible hardships and obstacles in reporting their traumas, every individual who speaks up shows every other survivor who has been silenced in the past that they too can make a difference. Mobilization efforts by young advocates are set to make a change in the political climate today, and with the midterm elections so near, it goes without saying that we need every vote that we can get. To make a difference, you have to get active. For the sake of those who have been silenced in the past and continue to have their voices drowned out by hate, get out and vote. Vote for yourself, vote for your family, and most importantly, vote to make a change.