My friend, Tracey Webb, just confessed her rape on Facebook. She shared that she was raped in her own basement when she was eight years old. I was just scrolling down my Facebook feed enjoying my recent birthday wishes and there was her story in full. She shared that her mother hired two teenagers from a city work program to clear their side yard. Tracey's 8-year-old self, happy and carefree, went outside to see what was going on. She went down into the basement where the young men were preparing the gardening tools. One of them trapped her and raped her while the other looked on. Afterward, this sweet child ran into her home and cowered in the laundry room. Her mother found her there distraught and confused. When her mother asked her what was wrong, she simply said her stomach hurt. That was it. She didn't tell her mother then and she never told anyone else for decades, until she was an adult and in therapy.
Instead of asking why she remained silent, let's ask why we keep asking why? We know why--every single one of us knows why victims of rape and sexual assault remain silent. And as psychologically damaging as these attacks are, the reason is not that deep or complicated. When it comes to women speaking up, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. It's a no win for them. We make it so painful for them to speak up and we make it painful for them go on living when they do. It is convenient to ignore the trauma of the incident and demand that girls and women be bigger than all of us, even as they are traumatized.
And I get it. I have two African-American sons. I do not agree that we should believe every woman just because she makes a claim. Our community knows a little bit about the cost of a false claim or a social misunderstanding of intention. But this over-zealous protection of men has destroyed so many girls and women, in our community and everywhere.
Tracey's rapist threatened to kill her and her family if she ever said a word. And so, not only did she live with the hurt, shame and confusion of the attack on her body, she lived with the terror of her attacker's return and of harm to her family. She suffered those terrors for her ENTIRE CHILDHOOD.
Yesterday, I watched a video of five Republican women, who are about my age, talk about why Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed. Really, they didn't talk about why he should be confirmed so much as why he should be forgiven. They initially say they believe Judge Kavanaugh's denials-- all five of them. But as they talk, it's clear that even if he did do what his accuser claims he did, they all feel he didn't do anything that should derail his confirmation. Instead, they argued, that this incident was no big deal.
"In the grand scheme of things, My Goodness, there was no intercourse," said one incredulous woman, "There was maybe a touch. Can we really? Thirty-six years later? She is still stuck on that?..."
"Tell me what boy hasn't done this in high school? Please. I would like to know," said another.
And then the chorus-- "why didn't she come out sooner? Why now?"
I will never forget when my grandmother was called to sit on a jury for a rape case. I was a young adult then. She attended to her duty on that jury with the seriousness and respect that only one from the Greatest Generation would. She heard every word and every argument. And then she and her fellow jurors let the rapist go. I remember listening to her reasoning. They believed that he did it, but it was all about how this young woman victim looked and behaved. When the rape allegedly happened, the victim was scantily dressed and had been drinking. There was evidence that indicated that the victim had a bit of a history of promiscuity-- I am not sure from what evidence this was deduced, what was actually, could actually, have been introduced to prove this. Or if the jury determined her character from innuendo based on where she was, how she looked or what she was doing at the time of the attack. But my grandmother kept talking about the victim dressing badly and essentially asking for it. I asked Granny if she thought the victim had consented to the intercourse, and she said yes. She said the victim said no and fought back, but she was where she should not have been and she was dressed in a way that announced that she was that kind of woman. She, in essence, deserved what she got.
My grandmother, the most empathetic, loving and diligent person I knew was crystal clear about how these things work. She had grown up and had to survive in a world where girls and women had to conduct ourselves in such a way to be safe or we were going to get hurt. My Grandmother (and I) belong to a demographic that is most at-risk for being assaulted and murdered. Black women are the most endangered group of humans on the planet. I am not making excuses for Granny, just offering her as an example of how very ingrained is this shift in responsibility, how pervasive is this notion that everybody knows how to avoid being raped and assaulted. Stay out of harm's way.
In this way of thinking, everybody knows that all seventeen-year-old boys do these things. It's not in their control to do otherwise. It's not their fault-- its testosterone's fault and those shameful, sinful, temptresses.
So my friend, Tracey. Was it her 8-year-old fault because she ventured down into her own basement, that she was attacked? Of course not. This was not her fault. And not because she was only eight. Is she even more at fault because she held that trauma in, kept her mouth shut? Was she wrong to want to avoid that ugly shift in the way people view you when you speak up, how they start to examine your character and your actions? Is it crazy to want to avoid becoming a soiled girl? A ruined person? The shameful, sinful temptress?
Stop asking the question-- why did she not speak up? You know exactly why because your opinion of Kavanaugh's accuser, both the girl and the woman, had already shifted even as you formulated the question. You already thought less of her, even when you knew she was telling the truth.
And by the way, since we know Kavanaugh very likely did what she says he did, why are we not troubled by the fact that he is lying about it right now? In his current denial lies his character. We know he was in the habit of getting black-out drunk. He may very well not remember. What is troubling is that he cannot tell the truth today. Not thirty-plus years ago, but right now.
I am one of these lucky women who has never suffered sexual assault. I can list a hundred instances in my life when I have put myself in very risky situations, when even at the time I've thought, "Oh, shit, this could be bad" or "How the hell did I get here?" or "Whoo hoo, this is fun, let's ride this out and see what happens!" But I have never had to pay for those poor decisions by getting raped or assaulted. I very often have survivors guilt about that. I have been just plain lucky.
I have survivor's guilt because I know SO many women who have not been so lucky-- SO MANY. In the midst of these "Me, too" and "I believe her" Movements, perhaps we women, older and younger, will stop internalizing the pathology that victimizes us, our daughters, friends, loved ones.
Tracey and I have never been close. We don't know each other well. But she is new to me now that I have read her story. She was already this amazing woman-- brilliant, accomplished, kind and fierce. But now that I know what she has suffered and overcome, she is a superhero. She has stepped out into the light when she didn't have to. And by her stepping out, she is saying (at least) two things: one, she is adding her powerful story and voice to the monumental shift happening now for women; and two, she is reminding us all that we must take responsibility for the silence of victims. This is everyone's fault.
And so I feel committed to my friend’s 8-year-old self. I can't save that sweet girl. But I want to help other girls like her right now. They are out there, listening to the world say that the boys around them get to be predators and Supreme Court justices, while you girls and women of the world, you get to carry the burden for them.
Well, fuck that. Stop Kavanaugh.