A Grain Of Saul: Men Who Wonder Why Women Wait To Report Sexual Assault Aren't Paying Attention

Women like Christine Blasey Ford shouldn't live in fear.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Christine Blasey Ford shouldn't have had to fear coming forward with her allegations of sexual assault, but she did. And in the wake of the defenses being mounted for Brett Kavanaugh, it's not hard to see why she and so many other women often wait years — or even decades — to share their own horror stories. And why some never share them at all.

Ford's allegations are disturbing. According to her account, which was detailed in The Washington Post on the record after it was submitted to Congress in confidence, Kavanaugh attempted to drunkenly force himself upon her when the two were teenagers. Ford says she attempted to scream for help but Kavanaugh covered her mouth as he groped her and tried to remove her clothing. Ford, who is a psychology professor in California, added that Kavanaugh's friend Mark Judge was also in the room and accidentally helped her escape when he jumped on her and sent the group tumbling to the floor. She feared for her life. (Kavanaugh has denied the claims publicly on two separate occasions.)

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Despite the allegations, Kavanaugh is likely to be nominated as the next judge on the Supreme Court and hasn't had to spend much time fighting off the frightening claims. Instead, high profile conservative pundits have taken to the internet to disparage Ford and dismiss her accusations. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., may have made the ugliest comment when he uploaded a vile Instagram post depicting "Judge Kavanaughs sexual assault letter" with child-like handwriting asking someone to be their girlfriend. The post got more than 40,000 likes, including an apparently approving comment from a senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Conservative journalist Rod Dreher asked, "why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge." Candace Owens, the popular provocateur and Communications Director for Turning Point USA, claimed the accusations were simply the final piece of a Democratic playbook to fight conservative wins. Erik Erickson, the conservative blogger and radio host, insisted the Senate GOP "should not treat the Kavanuagh accusation as credible," described the people upset over the allegations as a "mob," and insisted it was all a ploy so Democrats could keep "killing babies" without anyone getting in their way (this, ironically, is a subtle admission that Kavanaugh is a great threat to abortion rights for women, something GOP senators have mostly denied). 

All this might explain why, when asked by The Washington Post why she chose not to come forward until it appeared she would be outed, Ford responded: "Why suffer through the annihilation if it's not going to matter?" 

Why, indeed? Journalist Yashar Ali, well-known for his scoops and connections in Washington D.C. and Hollywood, shed light on an exchange he had with a woman in a similar situation — who expressed a similar perspective.

"About a year ago a woman came to me with a highly credible and deeply disturbing sexual assault accusation against a current senior government official," he tweeted. "Over the past year, I have stayed in touch with her. She has been reluctant to come forward. Moments ago she sent me this text."

"You see what they're doing to Professor Christine Blasey Ford?" the text message said. "Calling her a) a liar b) a liberal activist c) saying it doesn't matter since it was high school and d) saying she shouldn't have been drunk underage. That's why women don't come forward. Not in this America."

Of course, Ford herself went to great lengths to make clear her allegation is credible. She spoke about the alleged assault in couple's therapy in 2012, and came forward with her therapist's notes from the session. She took a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent. And, perhaps most tellingly, she tried to contact her local representative and send up the red flag earlier this summer, long before Kavanaugh was on the precipice of his confirmation.

Despite the careful nature with which she handled the allegations, Ford's worst fears about what would happen to her have come true. While the measured responses of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Susan Collins — who insist her story should be heard — are worthy of note, the reaction from so many other prominent conservatives is disturbing. Unfortunately, it's a reaction that is all too common in the political world. Liberals are guilty of it too. When women in the #MeToo movement have come forward against prominent men like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves or Charlie Rose, their stories have been largely accepted. But when credible allegations against Trump, Senate candidate Roy Moore, or former president Bill Clinton have been leveled, the seas have parted by party line.

As many Americans have pointed out, in the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty. That's the refrain from plenty of people now defending Kavanaugh. It's a perfectly respectable position to take, but it's worth flipping that refrain and applying it to Ford and other women who have the bravery to come forward about such personal experiences: why don't we assume she is innocent until proven guilty? Why don't we also assume she is telling the truth until she's proven a liar? Why don't we assume she's credible until she's discredited? 

Accusing her of fabricating her story about Kavanaugh is an assumption just as dangerous as supposing Kavanaugh is guilty of what she claims without hearing them each give testimony about what happened.

The #MeToo movement has brought on a great era of reckoning and — with any luck — healing in this country. But it's done little to shape the way Americans react to sexual assault allegations that involve political figures they admire. It's about time we started recognizing the great torment women face by coming forward, and giving each of them the benefit of the doubt when they do. 

Perhaps that respect would encourage more women to come forward with their stories, and give them ability to do so without the crippling fear that others plainly feel.

Cover image via Win McNamee/Getty Images.

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