Breaking the Wheel: The Discussion on Sexual Assault Blown Open

So, the saga that’s divided America has come to a head. Judge Brett Kavanaugh has become Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite all the allegations levied against him, the Senate felt that the case presented wasn’t strong enough to stop his ascension to one of the most powerful seats in the United States of America. However arguably, the more important story has only just begun. Kavanaugh’s nomination and subsequent hearings have highlighted a range of issues that plague American society. This ranges from the treatment of women, to the way the political system in the US is organised. At a time when the United States is becoming increasingly divided, a steadying presidential hand is required to calm the situation and restore order. Sadly, that tiny hand is owned by none other than Donald Trump. Since he announced that he was running for President, he has done nothing but encourage an atmosphere of division, as he fans the flames of hate and intolerance.

One key part of President Trump’s rhetoric since Kavanaugh’s appointment has been addressing how Kavanaugh’s ‘ordeal’ has affected the young men of America? Trump claims that American men are scared they could be accused of sexual assault at any moment. This is ludicrous but is it surprising it’s coming from a man who has been accused of sexual assault numerous times? Trump has bragged on TV about sexually assaulting women and viciously attacked women on social media over a variety of issues; from their intelligence to appearance. The only reason men should fear such allegations is if they are guilty of committing sexual assault. Trump’s sounding like a deranged man, fearful of the truth coming out, so is attempting, with annoying success, to shift the blame. It’s a classic Trump tactic. I recently saw Trevor Noah discussing Trump’s expert use of victimhood and how he used it to shift the focus away from the real victims and onto a group that suits his purpose. For example, in the Kavanaugh case he made men the victims, rather than the women who are the actual victims of sexual assault. It really brings home what Trump’s been doing.

The notion that it’s men who are the victims following the Kavanaugh scandal is preposterous. If you look at the statistics, it’s startling to see the number of women who still suffer sexual violence and assault today. Although according to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the rate of sexual assault or rape has fallen 63% since 1993, the numbers are still alarmingly high, pointing to the prevalence of sexual assault in American society pre-1993. That still equates to approximately 321,500 Americans that are aged 12 or older, and more horrifyingly, 60,000 children who were the victims of “substantiated or indicated” sexual abuse a year (NSAH). Every 98 seconds, someone in the United States is a victim of sexual assault. The estimated number of women who have been victims of rape in the US since 1998 stands at a staggering 17,700,000. Now, let’s contrast this with the approximate number of men since 1998 – 2,780,000. You can see that despite both men and women suffering from sexual assault, it’s women who are far more likely to be the victims. 91% of adult sexual assault victims are female (National Sexual Violence Resource Centre), yet they are often victimised when they speak out against their attackers and feel they can’t tell anyone for fear they are told it simply didn’t happen or are just ignored.

It’s estimated that 2 out of 10 rape claims are fake (NSVRC) and these false accusations are often accompanied by abuse elsewhere in their life or by mental health issues. Therefore, the notion that Dr Ford’s sexual assault claim against Brett Kavanaugh is a lie, statistically, is unlikely. What’s more worrying is the large number of people, men and women, who discounted her story even before the facts were established. It’s for this reason that many victims of sexual assault fear coming forward and reporting incidents. Ford was openly attacked by President Trump at a rally in Mississippi, where he challenged her authenticity as a witness. This public dismissal of sexual assault victims by those in positions of power and influence, leads others to follow suite. When survivors are treated this way in the public eye, it’s much easier for the masses to do the same, or for the behavior to become normalised. Rape is the most under-reported crime in the Unites States, with 63% of sexual assault cases not reported to the authorities (NSVRC). 13% of victims didn’t report their attack as they felt the police wouldn’t help, whereas 8% believed that it wasn’t important enough to report. These startling stats are not surprising following the response to Dr Ford’s claims. A well-respected woman made a serious allegation against a man in power, yet he was treated as the victim? What sort of message does this send to victims of sexual assault?

It’s reported that 81% of women and 35% of men who are victims of sexual assault report that they suffer significantly from short- and long-term impacts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is a shockingly high percentage and an aspect of sexual assault that many forget. It shows the clear link between sexual assault and mental health issues, which also highlights the large number of people who suffer further pain years after their assault. Many suffer from flashbacks, depression, and anxiety or develop problems with substance abuse or eating disorders. Dr Ford herself suffered from disassociation, a common response from victims of sexual assault, which made it harder for her to tell her husband or the police. It partly explains why she made her story known 36 years later, the mental strength it must have taken is truly commendable and I have nothing but the utmost respect for her.

Sexual assault has no place in society. Yet the reaction from senior politicians and those in power is appalling. In relation to the Kavanaugh case, Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell didn’t cover themselves in glory as they seemed more intent on pushing Kavanaugh through, regardless of whether he was innocent. They were focused on getting what was best for their party, not for the country or for the people that elected them. This disconnect between politicians and those they represent isn’t new. Nor is it a party specific problem. Trump spoke about “draining the swamp” in his election campaign, I feel the “swamp” needs to be demolished as draining it leaves the framework in place. The “swamp” needs to be rebuilt, so that it can start afresh.

The Senate or Congress doesn’t move quickly to change legislation or laws that could lead to the decrease in sexual assault. Let’s not forget that since 1998, 20,480,000 men and women have been victims of rape in America alone, that’s more than the population of Chile or the Netherlands. Reportedly, 63% of transgender people experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. This needs to change. If the numbers of sexual assaults decrease, then, in theory, so will the number of people who are suffering from mental health problems. This is another issue that politicians seem to avoid if possible, yet is incredibly important, changes to help the lives of people affected by sexual assault and mental health should be a priority.

The public debate over Kavanaugh’s appointment is over, he is now a Supreme Court Justice whether you like it or not. But the discussion of sexual assault in the context of US society and around the world, plus how embedded it has become, has only just begun. This isn’t the first major debate on sexual assault. Who can forget the Harvey Weinstein allegations, or the revelations about Kevin Spacey? It’s not unfeasible that Kavanaugh will end up presiding over sexual assault cases or deciding on new legislation. If he’s learnt anything from the experience of the last few weeks, perhaps it will make him feel a little uncomfortable and more understanding of sufferers of sexual assault, we can live in hope. This is not something that should be left to the politicians either, the public can have an impact. For example, treating women with the respect and dignity they deserve, can help remove some of the aspects of rape culture, thus creating a more positive and ‘hearing’ atmosphere for survivors of sexual assault to tell their stories, both male and female. If we all play a part, change will happen.

The Thing Is, this narrative will continue for a long time, and sadly there will be more victims coming forward to tell their story. Hopefully they will be treated with respect and dignity and won’t be dismissed without any evidence. Women, like those who spearheaded the #MeToo movement, have shown that, when unified, they can be unstoppable. Change needs to happen, and who knows, Brett Kavanaugh may still have a part to play.

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