Though I still start my day by glancing at the BBC news website, I — a European — have a confession to make. During this season of my life, stretched between work and homeschooling my two kids (oh, and then there's the rest of life, too), I don't always follow global current affairs as closely as I'd like to. I try to stay semi-informed about the often scandalous though increasingly "business as usual" developments in US politics, but as a non-American, neither a Democrat nor a Republican, they don't quite touch me in the same way they do US residents. Given a split-second choice, I'm as likely to click on an article about an elephant interrupting a BBC reporter's live coverage as I am to click on yet another headline accompanied by a picture of an angry-looking orange man — the US president.
The Kavanaugh news cycle still managed to penetrate my soul. Nope, I'm not here to talk about politics, though I recognize that rape and the way society deals with it does, in fact, quickly become deeply political. I am here to talk about how my wounds, carefully dressed and healed through years of therapy, introspection, and self-acceptance, were scratched open by a news cycle — and reactions to it — that I wasn't even following that closely.
It happened, of all places, on a Facebook group dedicated to a TV show I like to watch. Some women began posting references to Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr Ford, and it got heated as one member — a woman, I should add — thought it prudent to post something along the lines of: "Those of you who stand with Dr Ford even though there is NO EVIDENCE that anything she says is true, I GUARANTEE YOU that you'd be singing a different tune if it was your own husband in his shoes." She aggressively asserted that she could feel IN HER BONES that Dr Ford was a LIAR. Over and over again. Because there was no evidence, she said. Because Dr Ford showed inconsistencies in her account, she said.
That brought me back to my own, unfortunately far from unique, past. I don't necessarily want to talk about it, but here goes. I was 11 when my mother's "oh so charming", "oh so upstanding citizen" new boyfriend started raping me. When I finally plucked up the courage to "tell", those who could have made all the difference did not believe me. He was a nice man. He would never do anything like that. Kids make stuff up, and that's OK, but you gotta apologize to him.
I knew the name of the crime he repeatedly committed, and I knew he could go to prison for it. I even tried to gather evidence of his guilt. On multiple occasions, I spent time outside the local police station after school, perched on a very large rock in front of the entrance, contemplating reporting him. Nobody would believe me, my rapist had said, and they'd only think of me as a liar. My previous experiment in "telling" had proved him right, so why would the cops assume I was telling the truth? Further, I was afraid of what might happen if they did. In no particular order, everyone would know what happened to me, I might be taken into foster care (or so I believed at the time), people would force me to share all the excruciating details over and over. I wanted the rapes to stop. I didn't want a circus.
I never got any closer to that police station than that big rock.
It's a long time ago, now. As long as it has been for Dr Ford. Of course there is no physical evidence now. And though I vividly remember the smell of his house — it reeked of a disinfectant that still brings me right back there — and its general layout, and the kinds of shirts he used to wear, this wasn't a one-time event. I remember how it snowed, and how the street lights' reflections bathed the city in an orange glow because of that, the week he was supposed to "take care of me" as my mother went on an international trip to visit friends — long post-"telling". I remember worrying I'd have to spend the whole night sleeping next to him, only to be both relieved and a little weirded out as he set up a camp bed for me after raping me. I remember trying hard to pretend everything was fine when we went to pick my mother up from the train station as her trip came to an end. I remember telling myself that one day, he'd no longer be in my life, and I'd be OK. But I don't remember all the little details that might be asked in a cross-examination.
I do not remember, for instance, what I ate that week, beyond the time time he took me to a Chinese restaurant and the waiter made a comment about how great father-daughter dates were. I do not remember whether he picked me up from school in his van or I actually made my way to his house myself. I don't remember if I had a geography test that week, or whether any of my friends had birthdays. I sure as hell don't remember the exact date, nor even the year, this particular week took place. None of that makes me a liar.
Should my hypothetical husband face a rape allegation — any rape allegation, but especially one made by my own child — I sincerely hope I would stand with the victim, rather than fighting for him and proclaiming his innocence. Because I know full well that my mother truly believed him to be innocent, just as I know full well that she was wrong and I paid the price.
When I was a little girl sat in front of a police station, I was as afraid of the cops believing me as I was that they wouldn't, because I thought both scenarios would shatter my world more than it already had been. Today, I feel differently.
I feel differently as a group of rape survivors on the aforementioned Facebook group banded together to support each other through the emotional consequences of this news cycle, many sharing their own stories in a way they never could in everyday life. The fact that there were so many of us was saddening, but the comfort we were able to offer each other heartening.
We live in a world where people publicly accused of attempted rape get voted onto a Supreme Court. We live in a world where a sitting president can mock a survivor of sexual assault and instead declare this time a scary one for young men. And have some people actually applaud him. Belief or disbelief isn't so much the issue as the fact that certain people simply do not seem to care.
But there is hope, too. As both survivors of sexual assault and allies boil over with sadness and anger, it is easy to see that we will no longer be silenced. Sexual assault has always been shoved under the carpet. What's new is that so many of us will no longer let that happen.
The message that we don't matter may be loud right now, especially in the aftermath of Kavanaugh's confirmation, but for better or worse, there are many of us. We demand to be heard, and are united not only in our pain but in our outcry for justice, for a world in which rapists no longer routinely get away with their crimes. We are united in our disgust at the notion that a single rape accusation — the "false" is built into this song — can ruin a man's life, a message that utterly disregards the impact rape has on a victim's life. Dr Ford's courage in speaking out was not in vain, regardless of the fact that the outcome she and so many others will have dreaded came to be. We, sexual assault victims, will no longer be silenced.
So to all fellow victims of sexual assault who are confronted with memories they shouldn't have to have as this news cycle runs its course, you are not alone. I believe you. I stand with you, whether you reported or have been too afraid to ever tell anyone, whether you were drunk or sober, whether it happened yesterday or three decades ago, whether your rapist was a stranger or someone you knew intimately, an Average Joe or a public figure, and whether you remember every last detail or dissociated so much you barely remember anything. I stand with Dr Ford, too. Because I've been to the place where nobody believes you, and I don't like it there.