Missing the point on sexual assault accusations

Missing the point on sexual assault accusations

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We have hit the point as a society where it is near impossible to believe a definitive conclusion will be reached that will convince both sides of the political divide as to what happened between Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. This is not to say we did not find Blasey Ford’s testimony under oath credible, but we wish the conversation could go in a different, more productive direction on parallel tracks with the predictable political mudslinging. Believe it or not, we see this moment and conversation as far more important than a single seat on the Supreme Court bench, as mind blowing as that may be for some partisans.

The tenor of the national conversation following the hearing on the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is a perfect representation as to why people like Blasey Ford hold accusations back, sometimes for decades. As a country we need to take a step back and figure out why the knee-jerk reaction from so many when sexual assault or misconduct accusations come up is to find a reason to invalidate them. The #MeToo, #WhyIdidntreport and #TimesUp movements have moved the discussion undoubtedly in the right direction, but this week should serve as proof we still have a long way to go.

Defining sexual assault and instilling a baseline of acceptable behavior — especially in young men, but all young adults — would be an extremely healthy first step. Legally the term is defined as any unwanted sexual contact. It seems simple when phrased that way, but because of the way rites of passage and coming of age are portrayed and depicted in our society, truly hearing and understanding a partner and being conscious of someone else’s comfort in a certain situation is likely far from the minds of young people in that situation.

This should not be read as an excuse for people who cross the line into sexual assault — which is a crime — but rather a demand to be open to communication and self-reflection as a means to avoid perpetuating this type of behavior. If we can get our kids to a place of having that reaction, to look within and take up a dedication to learning from mistakes, instead of the knee-jerk deny, deny, deny, we’ll have taken a critical, if minimal, first step toward a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

The U.S. Senate used to be a body looked to for leadership, a place where Americans use their democratic right to send our very best, and most objective, neutral arbiters. Anyone who watched the hearing would scoff at that notion in the present day. We can only hope that once the dust settles on this ugly chapter that body will resume its intended function and becomes a leader in this discussion, regardless of political persuasion.

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