Survivors deserve to be heard

Sexual assault allegations must be investigated before they are discounted

KRISTIN BULZOMI, Evergreen columnist

Sexual assault allegations deserve an investigation before they are immediately discounted. If the recent increase in allegations has shown anything, it is that they deserve to be heard.

Sexual assault and harassment are so pervasive that no survivor is alone in their experience or trauma.

I thought of this as I listened to Christine Blasey Ford, a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In September, Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge and Supreme Court nominee, of sexually harassing her in 1982.

I heard my own experience in her story and emotions. I could relate all too well to the fragments in memory and parts that especially stood out. I was not alone.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline experienced a 201 percent increase in calls on Sept. 27, the day of the hearing, according to CBS News. Since the allegations were made public, the hotline has experienced a roughly 45 percent increase in calls.

To my dismay, I also saw and heard a reaction that is also all too familiar to me, one where those who are supposed to care for and treat people with dignity don’t.

Instead of asking questions of Ford, Republican senators chose to defer to a prosecutor. It felt as though Ford were on trial rather than testifying about her allegations.

Republican senators chose to engage with Kavanaugh and ask him questions. But not Ford. It was clear what they felt, who they believed and the way they would vote even before the hearing concluded.

I understand why the Republicans would be upset. These allegations could potentially have been dealt with earlier on in the nomination process and they were not. Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., had been aware of the allegations since July 2018 but kept them confidential at the request of Ford.

These allegations were handled the way they were regardless of what might be right or wrong and none of that is the fault of Ford. Taking out frustration on Ford over what the Democrats may or may not have done is unacceptable. She deserved the same respect Kavanaugh received.

This disbelief of the allegations also felt very familiar.

Too often the general public gives in to the misconception that all women make false allegations against men despite it not benefiting a woman at all to make them. Only a small percentage of reported allegations are found to be false, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

In the case of Ford, it has put her and her family in harm’s way and forced her to hire security. Why would she make up her accusations if so much harm would come to her and her family?

It is not only the disbelief of accusations but the belief that nothing will or can be done about them.

Ford’s worst fears about this were realized by the hearings as she described not wanting to come forward when the nomination seemed certain and was only compelled to after the press discovered the allegations, according to Ford’s testimony.

Out of every 1,000 rapes, only six rapists will ever be incarcerated, according to RAINN statistics.

Additionally, the hearings reminded me of a very recent case of sexual misconduct and harassment on the WSU campus with Jason Gesser, the former assistant athletic director of the Cougar Athletic Fund. Much like the hearings, the allegations against Gesser were not taken as seriously as they should have been.

It was not until The Daily Evergreen published an article on the allegations and someone spoke out against Gesser that we really started to understand the extent of the issue on campus.

Ford coming forward has paved the way for others to tell their stories of Kavanaugh and for senators to see he may not be the best nominee after all. His issues of drinking, alleged sexual misconduct and partisan beliefs are unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice.

I spoke with Phil Weiler, WSU vice president of marketing and communications, and Kim Anderson, Title IX coordinator, about sexual violence on campus.

Despite any failings that may have occurred with the Gesser case, which we did not discuss, both expressed genuine care about students’ well-being and concern about sexual violence for every WSU student.

Anderson heads the Office for Equal Opportunity and described in detail how the office investigates sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination that is severe, persistent or pervasive, as outlined in Executive Policy 15 and by Washington state law.

The resources available to students, which can all be found on the OEO website, are not limited to students on the Pullman campus, Anderson said. Students studying abroad or at any WSU campus can utilize the OEO and its resources.

The most powerful resource I learned about in our meeting was the ability to anonymously report sexual violence through the OEO’s website. Anonymity would limit the scope of an investigation; however, it would add to an investigation if more reports on the same individual were made. It could help identify perpetrators without potentially risking a victim’s safety.

Choosing whether to report, even anonymously, is a personal decision. No one has to report.

Survivors of sexual violence or any kind of violence survive in a variety of different ways, WSU Police Sgt. Dawn Daniels said. Despite what some might believe their response would be, no one really knows for sure. We are not Ford and did not experience what she experienced.

It is easy to judge how someone chose to survive a traumatic situation — not as easy to survive it yourself.

Ford survived her sexual assault by waiting 36 years to come forward. It in no way diminishes the legitimacy of her allegations. She deserved the attention and respect of the Senate Judiciary Committee just as any other individual with such disturbing allegations.

The Senate nominating Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court without a full investigation of the claims would signal that officials simply do not care about her allegations nor any future allegations of sexual assault.

Even if senators confirm Kavanaugh and disregard the allegations against him, survivors of sexual violence should not get discouraged.

Despite what appears to be happening in the Senate, society is changing little by little. It is evident in the existence of the MeToo movement. It is evident in the media where once-powerful, famous individuals are finally being held accountable sometimes after years of perpetrating sexual violence.

“It’s bringing to light a lot of these social changes that need to happen,” Daniels said. “We’ve seen it changing in law enforcement for several years now. It needs [to be] taken across the culture and the culture needs to change.”

At WSU, it is evident in our police department, where we have three officers who are specifically trained to deal with sexual violence, as well as a sergeant deeply knowledgeable on the topic dedicated to teaching students about consent through the Green Dot program.

The OEO investigates concerns from students, staff and faculty to the extent individuals are comfortable with.

It was a struggle to watch the confirmation hearings on Sept. 27 and see Kavanaugh voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee, but I am still hopeful.

What was once acceptable is no longer that way and it is this change in the idea of acceptability and the understanding of consent that gives me hope.

We need to have more conversations about sex, consent and healthy relationships with each other. If we do not know what a healthy relationship is or what consent looks like, how can we eliminate sexual violence?

“I think it’s teaching people to be better human beings and respect each other and have those conversations,” Daniels said. “We don’t communicate with each other very well. Why can’t we talk about sex?”