Before I even get started, I want to state that I firmly believe that victims of sexual assault should reach out for assistance, whether or not they ever choose to report it.
Having been in the Navy for 20 years, I am very familiar with the effects that sexual assault has on our forces. I was never a victim advocate because I never felt strong enough to support people who needed it. So, I applaud all of the victim advocates.
As a sexual assault command representative, I did attend the same training as the advocates. I also got involved in trying to educate and prevent sexual assault through public information campaigns.
That is why I find the coverage of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual assault again Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh so distressing.
Regardless of how people fall politically, or whether they believe Ford or whether they believe Kavanaugh, I believe that many Americans, victims of sexual assault, and future victims of sexual assault have been done a huge disservice in how all of this has been covered both in the media and on social media.
Two very negative messages about reporting sexual assault have been sent. Both have elements of truth to them, and both are bad.
- If you are accused of a sexual assault in the media, you will be found guilty in the public eye.
- If you report a sexual assault, and there is any record of you ever having made a bad choice in behavior, you will be publicly shamed.
The first one is very bad because the Sixth amendment in our Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial. Once these accusations go public, “innocent until proven guilty” goes right out the window. I don’t know whether or not Ford’s accusations are true, but accusations alone can destroy people’s lives. It should be up to a judge and jury to decide this, based on evidence, not just accusations and emotion. In the future, will vengeful people use this as a tactic?
I hope and I pray that military members will continue to exhibit honor and integrity and will not go down this route, ever.
I think the second message is even more important. Women who have served in the military know how wild and crazy things can get. They know what goes on when large amounts of liquor come into play. Many of us have done things we hope never make it on to social media.
“What happens on deployment stays on deployment.”
That phrase doesn’t mean to keep secrets you feel uncomfortable with. It doesn’t mean to keep assaults a secret. It does mean that no one expects to be judged in the future for getting drunk and making choices that are less than wise.
However, when Ford came forward with her accusations, all of a sudden her entire past, and everything she did as a teenager came with it. Her reputation as a party girl became an issue. Pictures and captions from her high school yearbook were plastered on social media.
This potential result of reporting sexual assault often prevents women from doing so.
This should never be the case. It doesn’t matter if a woman is dancing on tables at a bar after having too much to drink. It doesn’t matter if she was making out with three guys at a party. That has nothing to do with it if she is sexually assaulted later.
No means no! No response means no! Lack of yes means no!
It should be up to the courts to decide the guilt or innocence. Let the lawyers drag out the dirty laundry. Let them battle out what was relevant and what was not. If we are not sitting on a jury, it’s not up to us to decide.
All too often, I have heard people respond to reports of sexual assault with advice or judgement on what she could have done to prevent it.
The victim blaming starting with wondering where her liberty buddies were. For my soldiers out there, battle buddy. Well, the short article by Navy Times did not bring up all those details, but the information is out there, as pointed out by one comment.
“The driver asked me to sit next to him to give him directions.”
Anyone who has taken a taxi with their friends while on liberty overseas knows this is normal.
I am happy to see the angry reactions to “Women should never be on liberty without men in the Middle East.”
Well, her liberty buddies have not been identified as men or women. All I can say is, “What?!”
This brings relevance to the next comment.
The top comment reads, “It’s not victim blaming. She’s just not too bright. You can’t get mad when you get bit by a shark if you’re swimming with them.”
The bottom comment reads, “So, if you’re hanging out with male friends and they sexually assault you, that’s cool? You can’t get bit by a shark if you’re not swimming with them right? Your logic is skewed.”
In case you missed it, here are a couple of things to add to what the bottom comment is trying to say. Here are some numbers. In 2011, women made up approximately 15 percent of the active duty forces and in the officer ranks, women made up about 17 percent. So, if there were 30 officers aboard her ship, which is typical for a cruiser, there might be about five women on average. So, there is at least a chance there was at least one man with her, and somehow that did not stop the assault from happening.
Also, 80 percent of assaults occur with someone the victim knows. One would think that at least the majority of the time, the victim initially trusted this person.
With all that being said, it’s difficult to determine who is or is not a shark here.
And then there’s this. The best and worst comments I came across within five hours of this appearing on Facebook.
“Hmmm…women in the armed services…no problems here.”
But, I’ll end the rant on this particular story with the best comment. “Hoping the Sailor is OK and can reach out for help when needed.”
Speaking of which, safehelpline.org is always there as sexual assault support for the DoD community. It even includes a link to get help for people facing retaliation.
They can also be reached at 877-995-5247.
The Safe Helpline app can be downloaded at the app store or on Google Play. Just search “DoD Safe Helpline.”
Several additional resources can also be found here.
As I said when I started this post, victims of sexual assault can choose whether or not they want to report. Many things come into play when making that decision. However, I hope they will get help either way.