Women’s Stories Matter

CW: sexual assault, rape, child abuse
I’d been waffling on whether to share a reflection about women’s rights, a year later, but the new allegations about Roy Moore’s sexual assault(s) tipped the scales. 
We knew 2017 was going to be a fight the likes of which we hadn’t had to deal with in years. I, for one, was too young to remember the subtler ways in which the W administration dismantled or ignored civil rights protections. And truly, of the dark undersides of this country to grapple with in this first year, it would have made sense, on November 9, 2016, that sexual assault would be one. But the trajectory that it’s taken, with Donald’s own misdeeds falling entirely out of the news, with the numerous Fox dismissals, and now with Weinstein, Spacey, etc., every single development has baked in a reminder of just how unbalanced the scales are in this country regarding sexual assault.
How would Kevin Spacey’s story have played differently (even leaving aside the apology) if the person who came forward had been a 14-year-old girl at the time rather than a boy? I made this comment, offhand, at the time, but it’s continued to eat at me. I don’t think I could say with a straight face that it would have been the same. (And it’s difficult to separate the women’s rights aspect of that from the LGBT rights aspect of that, but I cannot believe that the latter is doing all the work.)
And as much as I wanted to tie this in electorally, I’m not sure what else I have to say on that yet. Moore is standing for election in a state that already voted for someone who brags about sexual assault, and voted for that person by nearly a 2:1 margin. It appears that he cannot stand down and be replaced on the ballot, which has already been finalized, which means that the GOP would have to run a last-minute write-in campaign if they wanted to replace him. I suspect this means that Moore will continue to ask for votes.
Girls just want to have fundamental rights.
A portion of the WaPo article about Moore’s victims stands out to me in particular. The statute of limitations in Alabama for the crimes Moore is described as committing in the article is listed as three years, or until the victim turns 21. Unless there are much, much more recent allegations, these cases are decades too old to bring charges for. And indeed, three years is a pretty standard statute of limitations in most states. (In New York, it is five years or until the victim turns 23.)
And yet, I can already hear the responses about waiting until the most politically opportune time to share this story publicly. “Why wouldn’t you want to have him put in jail rather than wait until he’s running for Senate?” Of course, this elides the historical context, one in which these encounters happened when Moore was described as universally popular, a time when these victims were almost certain to be dismissed as mere children making fantastical claims, a time when the court of public opinion was even more uneven than it is in 2017, a year in which two-thirds of sexual assaults still go unreported to the authorities.
And as much as it is a social good for there to be greater enforcement of these laws, the decision to take a story about a traumatic experience and share it is, and cannot be seen as anything but, unilaterally in the hands of the person who was subjected to that experience. It is often cast as an act of singular vulnerability, whether the account is shared with a trusted friend, with a fellow survivor, or with an arm of power that has been historically bad at investigating and following up on such reports. We as the general public are not entitled to that vulnerability.
But we must also recognize the strength it takes to come forward, especially against those who hold positions of power. The steady stream of stories about famous men who have used their power to assault others and assume it’ll get swept under the rug should indicate just how pervasive a problem we have; the steady stream of victim-blaming, both overt and implicit, even decades later, should serve to convince us of nothing more than the entrenchment of a society of and by the patriarchy that must be willing to look the other way to allow their grip on power to continue.
And so, as men, when these voices step forward, we must do more than read and acknowledge. We must do more than post “I believe you”. We must use our ability to be heard by those who might be skeptical of the cruelty of the powerful and amplify the stories of those that do come forward. We must support those who open up to us, regardless of what we might think is best to do or who we might think is best to tell. We must, in our conversations, work to break down assumptions about the prevalence of false reports (an aggregation of studies indicates that the number is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2–8%) and highlight the barriers that women face in trying to have their voices heard.
Women’s stories matter.
We can, no, we must help them be heard.

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