Why didn’t you buy peaches?

The reemergence of the decades-old crisis of sexual abuse committed in staggering numbers by Catholic priests, a nominee to the United States Supreme Court who may also have forced himself sexually on not one but possibly two people, and the sentencing of Bill Cosby for his sexual assault conviction has dominated headlines and consumed broadcasts of talking heads on tv.  Invariably, someone who has obviously been fortunate enough not to have experienced sexual abuse or harassment firsthand asks, “why didn’t the victim _______________?”


It doesn’t matter how you complete that sentence, because it implies that there is a “should” when it comes to responding to the overwhelming trauma of a sexual assault; moreover, it implies the victim did something wrong.  Whenever you ask why someone didn’t do something, you are suggesting, even if you don’t say it explicitly, that there is something that they, alternatively, should have done.  “Why didn’t you buy peaches?” is another way of saying “You should have bought peaches.”  No one, not a social worker, not a psychologist, not a prosecutor, not a president, not a bishop, and not even a pope can say how a victim should react and respond to being sexually violated.  The responses are as varied as the number of survivors is large — 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of rape, including attempted rape, and while the number is less, still 1 in 33 men have experienced rape or attempted rape.   Those numbers should surprise you, because if every one of those victims came forward like President Trump suggested they are “supposed” to, when it happened, the first five minutes of every newscast, everywhere, and the front page of every newspaper, everywhere, would be coverage of sexual assaults — EVERY DAY.

Obviously, they are not, and it isn’t because the assaults aren’t happening or the victims are waiting to share what is, arguably, the most painful experience, short of the death of a loved one, in their lives.  People have different reactions; they might tell their story in bits and pieces through the years, it might come out all at once, or it may never be told.  That last one is the most likely:  about 2 out of every 3 sexual assaults go unreported.  Why is it so hard to talk about?

There is no one answer to that question.  I can suggest some theories, but none of them are definitive.  Part of it is shame.  Part of it is fear.  Part of it is doubt.  Will people believe me?  Will people blame me?  Will people judge me?  And if I say something — will it matter?  Or will I just relive the hell of it in the re-telling?  The survivors are left with pain that victimizes and re-victimizes them long after the abuser/assaulter/harasser has faded from their memories.

I’m sure Judge Kavanaugh is a nice man who coaches his children’s sports teams, goes to PTA meetings, and helps old ladies cross the street.  Now.  But that doesn’t make Dr. Blasey Ford a liar.  Theodore McCarrick was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, Bill Cosby was known as “America's dad” and hocked Jello and pudding on tv.  Sexual predators don’t introduce themselves as rapists or hand out pamphlets detailing their crimes to each person they meet — and just because an alleged incident happened a long time ago and is just now coming to light doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or the victim has an ulterior motive for telling his or her story.  In my experience:

  1. people talk when they need to, when they are ready, not when they “should”
  2. everyone tells their story in their own way and for their own reasons
  3. wanting to punish a perpetrator (by derailing a career, destroying a reputation, or pursuing a criminal complaint that ends with incarceration) is a valid reason for coming forward — why should the victim suffer while his or her abuser prospers? (the victim longs for restorative justice to ease their pain)

So two women have come forward with allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  Both of them have stories to tell they say happened a long time ago; Judge Kavanaugh insists they didn't happen at all.  I don't know what happened, but I do know we need to hear both sides, and have an honest investigation into the accusers and the accused, particularly because if their is truth to the women’s stories, predators everywhere need to know their “innocence” is not just a question of running out the clock or victim-shaming their prey.

I have heard some, and even the president, say these women are “ruining” the judge’s life; but if he did what he is alleged to have done, are they not as concerned for the ruined lives of these women?  Are we interested in truth?  This is a teachable moment, and the lesson is that sexual assault — which occurs every 98 seconds in the United States according to the rape, abuse and incest national network (RAINN), founded by singer Tori Amos in 1994 — is not something to be dismissed as locker room talk/behavior or adolescent hi-jinx, and is something that should be an impediment to high office.

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