The world has changed in a significant way thanks to the courageous testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford. She made a very brave decision to make public the details of a sexual assault she says she experienced as a young woman. It took great courage to step into the national spotlight before the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly when our country’s current leadership is so callous and scornful. Can any of us imagine discussing our deepest held fears in front of posturing politicians and the frenzy of modern media?
I am grateful that Ms. Ford to put herself out there for the world to judge. While some of us may feel a collective sense of disappointment about the outcome of the hearings, rest assured that good will come from Ms. Ford’s words. Rarely have we seen in real time the raw emotions of sexual assault testimony, and the kinds of responses it engendered. Ms. Ford has ignited a national conversation about social norms and how we as a people need to work together to protect each other from the threat of sexual assault.
I believe Ms. Ford, because as a young girl I was sexually abused by a Baltimore City public school teacher, who was later convicted and sentenced to four consecutive life terms for the rape of another young girl at a Baltimore Catholic school. He was cruel beyond comprehension.
Many years after the horror of sexual abuse, I gave birth to my son, which triggered fears of entrusting him to the care of other adults. At the time, a psychiatrist warned me that just because I was ready to talk about my experience, it did not mean that others would be ready to listen or believe me. Opening up would be a risk, and I had to prepare myself for the potential criticisms. He was right. Not everybody believed me. But many did, and more importantly, some men and women quietly shared their own experiences of sexual assault and abuse after hearing mine.
Clearly, not everybody believed Ms. Ford’s public testimony. But I am confident she gave hope to many people who have yet to share the horror of their personal experiences. One voice of truth opens the way for another voice and another voice to come forward.
No one should ever endure such brutality and then feel compelled to keep it a secret — shamed into the very silence that helps perpetuate sexual assault. There is no shame in being targeted: All of us are vulnerable to assault; no one is spared from this experience because of their sex, age or race.
And perpetrators come in all shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of education.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), one American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Abuse and assault will be reduced when we acknowledge these awful crimes, educate children and adults about the issue and prosecute the perpetrators.
I’m grateful to #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and Baltimore-based organizations like FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture (www.upsettingrapeculture.com) for their roles in encouraging a national discussion about the violent nature of sexual assault. The silence is breaking and accountability is being achieved. The Catholic Church is at a reckoning. Celebrities, sports figures and not-so-average people are standing up to their perpetrators. We are finding our voices after years of painful silence. It is time to hold perpetrators from all walks of life accountable for their actions.
So, Ms. Ford, thank you for leaning in, speaking up and giving voice to the reality of sexual assault. I believe you.
Nancy Fenton lives in Baltimore; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.