An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. This reality is beyond upsetting and demoralizing — it is shameful. The sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh speak to our society’s failure to properly address violence against women. Even worse are the dismissive responses to the allegations by some politicians — including the president.
Despite Kavanaugh’s juristic qualifications, there is no place for him in American government, especially the highest judicial body. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and Palo Alto University (Calif.) professor, recently went public with a sexual assault allegation against him while the two were in high school. She alleged that, at a party, a drunk, 17-year-old Kavanaugh forced her into a room, locked the door behind them and pinned her down on the bed. He groped her and kept her from screaming until Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, who was also in the room with them, inadvertently pushed him off Ford, which gave her the opportunity to escape.
Now, another woman, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward and accused Kavanaugh of non-consensually exposing himself to her at a party while the two attended Yale University. On Sept. 25, President Donald J. Trump unleashed a ruthless verbal attack on Ramirez while at the United Nations. Whether or not her allegation holds true, Trump has only further denigrated women and their voices in a presidency riddled with misogynistic behavior.
Especially in the age of #MeToo, sexual violence against women should be a disqualifier for any position of power or authority; moreover, it should be a one-way ticket to prison, public shame and ridicule, or a combination of the two. Instead, the victim has once again become the recipient of death threats, social media attacks and skepticism.
The challenges Ford now faces are similar to those Anita Hill dealt with during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearing. Ford has been pushed into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans have demonstrated utter disregard for Ford’s humanity through their efforts to rush her public testimony, on top of publicly expressed doubts about her credibility. Their attempt to still confirm Kavanaugh despite these accusations is a blatant display of white male privilege — an all-too-common thread that runs through Trump’s administration.
This instance of dehumanization of women speaking out about being sexually assaulted, however, should be a watershed moment for our generation; we have the opportunity to reshape the conversation around sexual assault and demand Kavanaugh’s rejection. Democrat Al Franken was forced to resign from his Senate seat because of a sexual assault allegation. This crisis crosses party lines, and it is not about red or blue. We can protect, believe and support Ford, Ramirez and other women who have experienced the lasting trauma of sexual assault with a rebuke of Kavanaugh, just as was done with Franken and other politicians. But this cannot be done unless we first root out this problem at our own school.
According to Emory’s 2017 Clery Report, the number of reported rapes in 2016 increased from four in 2015 to six — both of which are a decrease from the 25 reported in 2014. Despite this decrease, the demonization of women who come forward with high profile allegations may lead victims everywhere to remain silent, which will further skew the numbers and hide the true extent of sexual assault at Emory and other universities.
Women on college campuses nationwide deal with sexual assault. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nearly one in four female college students in the United States will experience rape, and 27 percent have reported dealing with some form of unwanted sexual contact.
The numbers are telling — not enough is being done by the student community or school leadership to combat this epidemic of misogyny and violence. Online sexual assault prevention programs are not deterrents, and they do not do enough. These challenges will only be exacerbated by recent changes to Title IX proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which increases the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct and holds schools even less accountable.
If we are to truly root out the rape culture that seems all too present on college campuses, it means that we must learn from the mistakes of the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, continue the momentum of the #MeToo movement and realize that there is more to this pressing issue of sexual misconduct than just the Harvey Weinstein effect — one big case of serial sexual misconduct bringing more prominent cases to the forefront. We need a national reckoning, and it is on college students and aspiring leaders and innovators to shape the conversation and devise solutions.
I cannot and will not stand to see my fellow classmates threatened by sexual violence during their time at Emory. We must trust and stand up for the women in our lives. If we hesitate to act against sexual misconduct at Emory, we are no better than those trying to discredit Ford and confirm Kavanaugh. It is time for the whole Emory community to be the advocates for the women whom leaders in our government are failing.
Jacob Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Ga.