Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony of sexual assault by Judge Brett Kavanaugh provided opportunities to encourage and discourage females of all ages to talk about their own experiences. We’ve all heard the discouraging comments, which led author Monica Hesse to write a column in The Washington Post titled, ‘Dear dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.”
I was pleased to hear that Hesse’s research was not limited to interviews with daughters, but also included conversations with their dads. Hesse writes, “A man emailed recently in response to something I’d written about street harassment. He was so glad that his college-age daughter never experienced anything like that. Less than a day later, he wrote again. They had just talked. She told him she’d been harassed many, many times — including that week. She hadn’t ever shared this, because she wanted to protect him from her pain.”
Hesse found many reasons why daughters don’t talk to their dads and continue to keep their sexual harassment, assault and rape from significant others. Daughters told Hesse that they wanted to protect their dads. “To the father of the teenager who was raped at a party. You don’t know about this, because she was certain that if you knew, you would kill her attacker and go to prison, and it would be her fault” wrote Hesse. Also, would he reject her story — perhaps her biggest fear. There are many reasons to remain silent about sexual assault. Interestingly, many of these reasons have to do with “protecting men we love from bad things that happen to us” as stated by one woman to Hesse.
On Fox News, Chris Wallace reported that after Ford’s testimony, “Two of my daughters have told me stories that I had never heard before about things that happened to them in high school.” Hesse cautioned, “If you are a father who hasn’t heard these stories, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They’ve been pouring into my inbox almost every day.”
After Dr. Ford’s testimony, many men and women wondered why sexual assault victims didn’t immediately tell anyone about their experience or why they slowly revealed the experience to friends or counselors many years after the incident. Research shows that there are many “silent victims” of sexual assault; a majority of them are never reported to the police. Many people, including the president of the United States, have cast doubt on these experiences and on the women sharing them. Hesse writes, “To all the fathers of all the silent victims: Your children are quietly carrying these stories, not because they can’t handle their emotions but because they’re worried that you can’t. They are worried that your emotions will have too many consequences. Or they fear you won’t think of them the same way.”
As I listen to some men cast doubt — or worse — on Ford’s testimony, I wonder what message they were giving their daughters or other women in their lives who, perhaps, may have had a similar experience? None of us has enough evidence to make a decisive conclusion about Ford’s testimony. But to assume her experience is false and to cast her as a bad person for talking about her experience communicates to family members who are victims that their own stories will not be taken seriously. When one looks at how Ford has been treated by some, is it any wonder why victims keep their experiences to themselves?
Hesse encourages women to share their experiences anyway. How else will men learn that the experiences they hear from others may be real, and that there are valid reasons why women remain silent about their assaults? Our society needs to be educated. Perhaps, then, we will find the empathy to listen to the experiences of others with an open mind. Sometimes, only when an experience hits home and involves someone we love, can we believe or develop empathy for others with the same experiences.
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I hope that more women will share their stories, if for no other reason, then to educate the rest of us. As Hesse writes, “If you can tell your father in a way that feels safe, and in a way that would bring you comfort, tell your father. Tell your brothers. Let them be uncomfortable; let them share some of your pain. Don’t let them be ignorant. If your fathers are going to form beliefs about how victims should act and what perpetrators look like, then force your father to deal with the complication of making those assumptions about someone he loves.”