It’s the ultimate lose-lose. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If a woman fails to publicly complain about sexual harassment, she will later be asked, with disbelief and incredulity, why? Why didn’t you speak up? It must not have been that bad if you didn’t report it.
If a woman does publicly complain about sexual harassment, she will be asked, with disbelief and incredulity, why? Why are you speaking up? Who are you out to get? Did you misunderstand? You probably wanted it? Did you change your mind afterwards?
Aside from the trauma inflicted by any assault the brutal reality for many women violated is that whichever path they choose in the aftermath will bring them face to face with a different form of trauma. The trauma of having their experience minimised, dismissed and disbelieved.
The ugly spectacle currently underway in Washington, in which Dr Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California alleges that Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when they were both teenagers, illustrates the bind perfectly. The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport captures it brutally.
I was 16 and it was someone I really liked. We were messing around during the lunch period but then they didn’t stop like I asked them to, over and over again. It was my first time having sex. I didn’t want my parents to know, and I was ashamed. #WhyIDidntReport
— Alicia Garza (@aliciagarza) September 23, 2018
It’s reported that when Donald Trump was elected US President Ford’s mind immediately turned to a man she had been unable to forget because of the night her attempted rape, Brett Kavanaugh, because she realised he may well be appointed to the Supreme Court. That idea along was enough for Ford to consider moving her family to New Zealand.
“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”
After moving 3,000 miles away from her traumatic teenage experience, it wasn't far enough. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was forced to leave her home and is now living in a hotel and looking for a security service to escort her kids to school. https://t.co/iDBb3pLdth
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) September 22, 2018
They didn’t move but after making the allegations – privately initially – it’s possible she wishes they had. There have been death threats, her email has been hacked, there have been serious security concerns and her credibility has been openly dissected, even by the President himself, since she was named as Kavanaugh’s accuser.
Ford has agreed to publicly testify this week but whether or not her testimony will appease her detractors who are adamant she has made it up is unclear. While some have openly attacked the veracity of her claims, others have openly questioned the seriousness of it. The suggestion by Republican women who support Kavanaugh that ‘all teenage boys have behaved that way’ is particularly troubling.
— shauna (@goldengateblond) September 22, 2018
Infuriatingly the question rarely scrutinised in this realm is why any thinking rational woman would invite upon herself the avalanche of scepticism and suspicion that accompanies making any allegation of harassment. Making allegations of assault against a powerful individual appears, from all accounts, to be a special kind of hell that it’s difficult to imagine anyone freely and happily choosing.
Did anyone watch Catherine Marriott on ABC last week and think it looked like a giant barrel of laughs? Can anyone seriously consider the public hell Dr Ford is enduring as enticing? As worth risking her privacy and security and anonymity for?
Why women would falsify these claims is not examined with any degree of commitment or sincerity because the easier assumption, alarmingly, is that many women are humourless troublemakers desperate to destroy the lives and credibility of innocent men.
That assumption is partly why men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were free to terrorise women with impunity for so long. No one believed the women. It was easier to believe women confected stories and complaints than it was to believe they were speaking the truth.
And that remains a live concern. In a workplace setting, research tells us that very few women complain about harassment and the few who do most often end up leaving their jobs. Too often their complaints are not believed or not dealt with.
If #MeToo has done nothing else it has revealed the extent to which the reflexive response to doubt allegations of harassment is misdirected. The sad truth is many women have enough true horror stories of assault or harassment that they’d never dream of making up. Mostly they are nightmares they try to ignore. The terrible truth is if they are interested in maintaining their own sanity and security you’d hardly blame them for keeping quiet. Being loud looks mightily unappealing.