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Why Women Don’t Come Forward

Berklee College of Music students march in response to sexual assault allegations against Berkless professors on November 13, 2017
They’re reporting now because the support is there — for the first time ever. (Photo credit Haley Lerner/Berklee Daily Free Press)

[Content note: sexual assault]

Supporters desperate to defend Roy Moore against accusations of child molestation and predation — and justify their decision to vote for him despite said accusations — love to try to discredit his accusers by asking why they didn’t come forward 40 years ago, when the offenses allegedly occurred. It’s a bullshit argument — when you can’t realistically say, “He didn’t do it,” your only refuge is, “The accusations are politically motivated” — but you know what? I’ll play.

Why are the women only coming forward now?

1. The four women the Washington Post originally talked to said they hadn’t planned on going public at all, ever — they were ashamed of what happened, and they were (rightly) afraid of how the public would treat them, and they just wanted to move on with their lives. They only came forward because the Post reporter sought them out and convinced them to speak out, and they decided there was too much at stake to stay quiet.

2. The women who have come forward since then (and there are, what, eight of them now?) said they only found the courage to come forward now because they no longer felt so alone and afraid.

3. The accusations didn’t come out during Moore’s previous, statewide campaigns because the national press didn’t take interest in his previous, statewide campaigns. (See above in re: The women only came forward because the Post reporter convinced them to.)

4. The accusations came out a month before the election because the Post article — which was originally supposed to be a simple profile of Moore’s local supporters, and not a three-week, 30-source report-a-thon — wasn’t finished until a month before the election. (The paper had been covering Moore since before the primary, and the article about his supporters was just another part of that. Had the rumors of Moore’s abusive behavior been uncovered earlier, it’s safe to say they would have been reported earlier.)

That’s why the women are coming forward now, and not 40 years ago, and not months ago, and not during Moore’s previous elections. Y’all’s attempt to discredit the women is invalid. Find a new argument.

But why did they not want to come forward in the first place?

They didn’t want to come forward because the world is a dick to victims of sexual assault.

They’re ashamed.

In the Washington Post, Leigh Corfman, who accused Moore of molesting her when she was 14 and he was 32, said that she felt such shame after her abuse — “I felt I was responsible. I thought I was bad” — that she only told two of her closest friends that anything had happened. She later abused drugs and alcohol and even attempted suicide because of the emotional impact of the attack.

With victim-blaming and slut-shaming as rampant as they are, assault victims who don’t fit the “ideal victim” profile are often afraid to come forward because they’ve internalized the blame for their attack. A woman who was date raped after she was drinking, or who went voluntarily to the home of the person who attacked her, or who froze and didn’t put up a fight, or who had been intimate with her attacker in the past, might believe that it wasn’t rape because it was all her fault — or could believe that there’s no point in coming forward, because it would just be blamed on her regardless.

Their abuser was powerful, beloved, or influential.

Beverly Young Nelson accused Moore of attacking her in his car when she was 16. She said that before he kicked her out his car, he said, “You’re just a child, and I am the district attorney of Etowah County, and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.” The power differential between a well-respected public official and a 16-year-old is enough to scare any girl into silence. What teenage girl is going to have the courage to come forward with an accusation after a warning like that? It took her four years to be able to tell anyone at all.

It was that same kind of power that kept Harvey Weinstein’s and Louis CK’s accusers from speaking out before they did. Even as their misconduct was an open secret in their industries, no one was willing to speak up — neither the accusers, nor anyone else who knew about it. Weinstein’s offenses were the subject of jokes, and CK’s offenses were the subject of his own jokes, and no one ever came out and said that that shit was not funny. Because Do you know who I am?

And if the attacker is a family member, it can be even worse.

They’re afraid of the consequences.

Terry Crews said that when he was assaulted by a high-level Hollywood executive, he didn’t speak up because he was afraid of being ostracized in his industry. He would lose his livelihood. It’s hard to imagine a man as big and strong as Crews being afraid of anything, but as he said on Twitter:

They’re also frequently afraid (and with good reason) of public attacks. Corfman acknowledged in the Post article that with her history of multiple bankruptcies and multiple divorces — “There is no one here that doesn’t know that I’m no angel,” she said — she expected that the media would dredge up her past to try to discredit her. Tina Johnson, Moore’s most recent accuser, similarly said that she’s pled guilty to several misdemeanors in the past and is afraid of public censure — but that it’s important enough to speak out anyway.

“I’m not perfect,” she said. I have things in my background and I know (the public) will jump on anything, but (what happened with Moore) is still the truth, and the truth will stand when the world won’t.”

“I’m not perfect.” “I’m no angel.” But a person shouldn’t have to be a perfect angel to be respected as a victim of sexual assault.

They do come forward, and they get ignored or further victimized.

… like what’s happening now to Moore’s accusers — like Corfman, whose past is, as she predicted, being dragged up, dirtied up, and passed around to discredit her. Since Leeann Tweeden accused Al Franken of sexually harassing and assaulting her on a USO tour — offenses to which he has admitted — her past as a Playboy Playmate has been brought up, as if displaying one’s body on one’s own terms is an invitation for assault. And they’ve brought up the fact that the kiss in the sketch was consensual, as if a scripted peck on the lips is an invitation for him to shove his tongue down her throat without her consent. Any assault victim watching what’s being done to her would be completely justified in being scared into silence.

And then there are the authorities who are more loyal to the accused than to anyone else. This is frequently seen with college athletes, where accusers are ignored, disbelieved, and/or pressured to drop accusations because You don’t want to ruin a good boy’s whole life, do you? They’re subjected to interrogation as if they themselves were accused of a crime — What were you wearing? How much did you drink? Why were you still in contact with him afterward? How many people have you slept with? Hadn’t you slept with him before? It was probably consensual and you just regretted it afterward. You’re just ashamed of being a slut. You’re going to ruin a good boy’s life. And, of course, Why didn’t you come forward before now?

But that kind of abuse can happen to anyone, accusing anyone — anyone who has friends who don’t believe he could do something like that, or authority figures who don’t want to deal with it, or governors who believe you’re telling the truth but are going to support your attacker anyway because at least he’s not a Democrat.

As Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore himself questioned the application of Alabama’s rape shield law that prevented defendants from bringing up the alleged victim’s sexual history — on a case where a man was accused of raping a 12-year-old. And another case where a man was accused of raping two 15-year-olds at an alternative school. When the price of speaking out is being victimized all over again, women stay silent.

Women don’t come forward because the world is a dick to victims of sexual assault.

When they come forward right away, they’re shamed, blamed, attacked, and ostracized. When they come forward later, they’re accused of betraying other women and abetting the attackers by not wanting to step out onto the firing line. Women don’t come forward because everything about our society wants to punish them for doing so. The question shouldn’t be, “Why don’t women come forward?” It should be, “Why would a woman ever want to?”

One thought on

  1. And police, who can tell any damned lie and everyone believes them. My late father briefly co-owned a business with a police officer who eventually was dismissed from the force for rape. A high school acquaintance was raped by a different officer. The idiocracy is squalling about blacks voluntarily taking a knee against police violence but not a word is said in defense of women forced to kneel for sexual violence and keep quiet about it. The only rationale for the Biblical doctrine of divine approval of authority figures is Mark Twain’s statement that God is a malign thug.

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