By Stella Pagkas, Social Media Representative
When a man is accused of sexual assault, one of people’s first reactions is to shame the woman for “ruining the man’s life.” Nevermind what happened to her, people are upset because they believe that the man’s career and reputation have been permanently ruined. But in America, that’s just not true.
A prime example of this is Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. You likely know the story: on July 9, 2018, President Trump nominated Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and on September 16, an article was published in the Washington Post detailing a sexual assault allegation against him made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
In the article, Ford claimed that Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her at a party when they were both in high school. In a later hearing, she summarized the incident, stating, “Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes … I believed he was going to rape me.” When she tried to yell for help, she said, “Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most.” Prior to publicly coming forward, Ford had written to California Senator Dianne Feinstein about the incident and had passed a polygraph test regarding her story. Soon after Ford came forward, two other women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward with their own sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.
These allegations would become a topic of intense national debate, but Kavanaugh refused to request an FBI investigation into the allegations, and Ford had no concrete evidence, so there was only a very limited investigation. After a series of hearings, the Senate voted to appoint Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice on October 6.
Now, Kavanaugh has a position on the highest court in the nation, while Ford cannot even live in her own home because of the death threats she receives. Yet, people continue to shame women who come forward with stories like Ford’s because they “ruin a man’s life.”
Before Kavanaugh’s hearings sparked national controversy, these kinds of allegations were made against President Donald Trump. Between the 1970s and 2013, twenty-two women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault: Jessica Leeds, Ivana Trump, Kristin Anderson, Jill Harth, Lisa Boyne, Mariah Billado, Victoria Hughes, Temple Taggart, Cathy Heller, Karena Virginia, Tasha Dixon, Bridget Sullivan, Melinda McGillivray, Natasha Stoynoff, Jennifer Murphy, Juliet Huddy, Rachel Crooks, Samantha Holvey, Ninni Laaksonen, Jessica Drake, Summer Zervos, and Cassandra Searles.
Among other offenses, these women accused him of groping them and kissing them without consent. Trump denied all accusations, disrespecting the women who came forward and even implying that the accusations were false because the women were not attractive enough for him. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, responded to the allegations saying, “these aren’t even women he’d be attracted to.”
However, Trump’s own words seemed to substantiate the allegations, as in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview with Billy Bush, Trump was recorded saying “I just start kissing them … I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab’em by the p–sy. You can do anything.”
Many claimed that the women who came forward were out to get Donald Trump, that they were ruining his life. But on November 8, 2016, Trump was elected President of the United States of America, while those who came forward were forced to accept that their stories would never be taken seriously.
So why is it that when a woman in America comes forward and says that a powerful man sexually assaulted her, we don’t do anything? Why are we more likely to attack the woman’s story than the man’s reputation? The answer lies in the way our society values men and women.
When we disregard a woman’s sexual assault allegation against a man, we are telling her that we care less about her future than his. This was clear in the case of Brock Turner. In 2016, Turner, a freshman at Stanford University, was found attempting to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was later convicted of three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
Despite these serious charges and the fact that those convicted of sexual assault in California are generally incarcerated for at least one year, Turner only served three months in prison. Many believe Turner’s remarkably lenient sentencing was the result of Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky trying to protect Turner’s future. Turner was a star swimmer at Stanford, with Olympic potential and a bright future ahead of him, and in regards to his punishment, Persky stated that jail time would have “adverse collateral consequences.” Turner’s own father said in a statement, “[Brock’s] life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. This is a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action out of his twenty plus years of life.”
But while everyone was so worried about preserving Turner’s future, no one was concerned with the future of the woman he assaulted, who goes unnamed. As a registered sex offender, Turner may have difficulties finding a job or a girlfriend, but the woman who survived his assault will struggle to feel safe. The man who sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious now walks free after paying a very small price for his crimes, and this has a much greater impact than just Brock Turner and the survivor’s lives. This case sent a message to men all over America that sexual assault isn’t that big of a deal, that the justice system is on their side. It also sent a message to women, that their futures don’t matter as much as their rapists’.
This concept, of a man’s future having more value than the future of the woman he raped, is downright sexist, and it’s nothing new. Men convicted of rape, especially college athletes, face minimal consequences because of their “bright future” all the time. What’s even worse is that Turner’s punishment is more harsh than what the vast majority of rapists receive. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), only six out of every one thousand rapists are incarcerated.
Less than 1% of rapists ever face jail time, and if we want to change this, we need to fundamentally change the way our society views men and women. We need to stop feeling bad for men who assault women, and forgiving them because they cry about it and how it has ruined their future. A man who forces himself on another person without consent has lost the right to his “promising” future, and they deserve to face real consequences for what they’ve done. And when a woman comes forward with her story of sexual assault, we need to listen, and instead of accusing her of trying to ruin a man’s life, we need to consider that her life may have been forever changed by something she had no control over. We need to face that if we really valued a woman’s life as much as we valued a man’s, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. But it does happen. And it’s time for America to stop pardoning rapists and to start valuing and listening to the women who survive.