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A call for empathy

October 19, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

I would like to begin by saying that Brett Kavanaugh does not need defending. He has lost nothing as a result of these accusations and has, in fact, gained access to one of the most powerful positions in the nation despite them. The fact that people still feel the need to defend this man, who has potentially traumatized multiple women and faced no repercussions, demonstrates a horrifying lack of empathy for the women involved in this, and for all others who have experienced sexual assault.

De Quilliacq is right that Brett Kavanaugh deserves the right to a fair trial, but so does Christine Blasey Ford. Brett Kavanaugh was never put on trial for these charges. Congress held a “hearing,” the purpose of which was to determine whether Kavanaugh was the appropriate person to fill the position of Supreme Court Justice, not to determine his innocence or guilt. Ford deserved to have all evidence of these allegations examined, but it was not. Despite this, Kavanaugh still managed to prove himself unworthy of sitting on the nation’s highest court through his “hysterical” (to reflect de Quilliacq’s own language) outbursts and seeming lack of ability to control his emotions. No one determined Kavanaugh guilty of committing sexual assault. No one determined him unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice. No one stopped him from being capable of making decisions that will affect millions of people for decades to come. He is a powerful, powerful man, whether he has committed sexual assault or not.

In his piece, de Quilliacq says that 98 percent of sexual assault accusations are true. I am not sure where that number comes from, but even supposing it is true, this does NOT mean that 98 percent of those accused of sexual assault are found guilty. The number is likely much lower. While statistics are almost impossible to find because of the nature of how Title IX cases are handled, I can assure you, just from what I know of cases that have been conducted on Bowdoin’s campus, the percentage of those accused who are actually convicted is not that high. There are some numbers, however, that we do know with more certainty. For example, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault. We would be better off to concern ourselves with the prevalence of unconvicted assailants walking around our campus than with an imaginary number of falsely accused persons.

I would also like to address the strange—but apparently widely-held conviction—that Title IX favors the accuser. I would like to first point out that the survivor is in a far more vulnerable position, as they will have to relive their trauma repeatedly in order to have any hope of receiving justice for the crimes committed against them. Second, the language of Title IX does not presume guilt until the accused is proven innocent. Under Title IX, survivors are not automatically believed. They are required to prove that it was “more likely than not” that they were assaulted, which involves having to tell strangers the story of their assault in an environment in which they are not necessarily presumed to be telling the truth. I am not sure how well people who have not gone through this are able to comprehend the psychological difficulty of such an event. I can speak from my own experience, and say that although I have not been through a Title IX case myself, I started seeing a counselor during my first year at Bowdoin because of the difficulty I was having supporting friends who had experienced assault. The emotional toll of reporting a sexual assault is pervasive and deep-reaching, which may explain why so few survivors report. This is not a system that supports survivors. It is one that privileges the accused’s reputation over a survivor’s safety and mental health.

What I think that many people who agree with de Quillacq are missing is a serious lack of compassion, empathy and understanding for those who have experienced sexual assault. Sexual assault is a traumatic event that can cause serious psychological harm to an individual. Forcing survivors to relive their experience while having its truth and accuracy constantly questioned is in itself a form of trauma. This must be considered when discussing charges of sexual assault. Survivors should be believed. Their trauma must be recognized as real. If you care at all about women and all survivors, be a better ally than this. We deserve to be listened to; it is our right to be heard.

Sophie Sadovnikoff is a member of the class of 2019. 

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