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Christine Blasey Ford and a Survivor’s Choice
Editor’s note: A survivor’s decision to seek help or report a rape is a personal choice that belongs only to the survivor. Survivors’ bravery and credibility are not dependent on whether they choose to report an assault to authorities or not. All survivors are courageous; their reasons to share their experiences or keep it to themselves are their own. When a high-profile survivor story dominates news headlines, survivors’ accounts get called into question and are heavily scrutinized. Today we honor the power of survivors’ voices with an anonymous essay from a survivor about her experience and the response she received when she decided not to report the crime.
Trigger warning: This post may be difficult for some people to read.
As soon as I woke up, I knew I wouldn’t file a report. I knew how these stories play out. My character is not unimpeachable, and my memories of the night are almost non-existent, inexplicably erased by only four drinks over the course of as many hours. I briefly wondered if I’d been drugged, but I knew it wouldn’t matter to the naysayers. The “But what were you wearing?” and “Well what did you expect?” crowd would never think my word would be enough.
I made a doctor’s appointment for later that day, wanting only to obtain medications to protect me from any infections he might have been carrying as he forced himself onto my limp, unconscious body. I explained my situation in as few words as possible, watching the judgment and disdain wash over the face of the older male doctor—the only practitioner who had an opening that day.
“This isn’t part of my job. You need to go to the emergency room,” he told me.
I calmly explained that I did not want to file a report, and was seeking a prescription for HIV prophylaxis.
“You have to report. It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Don’t you think you should do the right thing?”
For the first time all day, I felt a simmer of emotion bubbling to the surface.
“What I think is that it’s not your place to tell me what is right. Can you help me or not?” I asked.
He rose and left the room. Throughout the course of the next two hours, I saw a different doctor who agreed to help me. Vials of blood were drawn, antibiotics were injected, and four different prescriptions were called in. But it wasn’t easy.
Emotionally numb and exhausted, I stayed firm in my decision not to file a report as a nurse came into the exam room, took my hand, and started crying, telling me I “had” to report it because it was my responsibility to stop him from doing this to someone else.
I stayed firm in my decision as a police officer arrived. He was called in against my wishes, and he asked me for details that I declined to give.
I continued to stay firm in my decision as I began to regret seeking medical care. I had chosen not to file a formal report because I did not want to invoke the inevitable condemnations and stigma that would be cast upon me. In the eyes of skeptics, I would be merely another drunk girl. As I attempted to exert my choices and free will in the aftermath of an experience where I had been robbed of them, I felt the same judgment I was trying to avoid by not filing a report.
To me, it seems that you’re doomed either way. You are shamed for your past if you make a report and shamed for his future if you don’t.
Christine Blasey Ford made the choice not to report her assault for many years, even as her daily life was fraught with the repercussions of Brett Kavanaugh’s actions. Ford sought to stay anonymous while coming forward to disclose the misconduct of someone who is seen by many as a pillar of ethics and integrity. Her privacy, her choice, and her autonomy were violated as her name started to leak.
I see her choice to come forward now—to put her name and reputation with her story—as unbelievably brave. She is brave in a way that I could not be, and yet in a way that she shouldn’t have to be. By revealing her name, she opened herself up to character assassination, harsh judgment, and vicious attacks from people who do not know her and who won’t ever believe her. It’s disgusting that a survivor is publicly maligned for disclosing their experience. They have their name dragged through the mud, forever associated with a scandal—and almost certainly gain nothing. If this is the treatment given to a respected researcher and professor when she comes forward, an educated white woman, how can anyone, anywhere, decry a victim’s choice not to report their rape?
Contrary to the views expressed by the nurse who tearfully implored me to file a report, my attacker’s future actions are not my responsibility. It is up to the survivor to decide whether to put their name, reputation, and background up for the world to scrutinize and censure. It’s a tremendous burden to put on someone because—in all likelihood—the perpetrator will remain free of consequences. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapes, only 6 rapists will be incarcerated for any length of time.
When the stakes are so high for a survivor who discloses their story, and the likelihood of justice are so low, it is a personal choice to decide whether or not to make that extreme sacrifice. Until you are willing to accept a victim’s truth as readily as you accept a defendant’s denial, don’t you dare criticize or question our reluctance to come forward.