President Donald Trump knows a thing or two about sexual misconduct. He has, after all, been accused of sexual harassment by at least 19 women.
On Friday he decided to summon his expertise in this area and weigh in on the sexual assault accusations Dr Christine Blasey Ford has leveled against the US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump tweeted. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
While there is no doubt that Trump is morally and intellectually bankrupt but, even so, attacking the credibility of a private citizen on Twitter is low. And tweeting that a 15-year-old girl, as Ford was at the time of the alleged attack, would immediately have gone to the authorities about the crime, is willfully stupid.
It ignores mountains of evidence that show most victims of assault don’t report the crime. For example, according to 2016 data by the Bureau of Justice Crime Victimization Survey, analyzed by FiveThirtyEight, less than a quarter of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police. These sorts of crimes are the least likely of any to be reported.
If you’re wondering why this is, just look at Twitter. Trump’s statement provoked a viral hashtag #WhyIDidntReportIt, in which sexual assault survivors, including a number of celebrities and politicians, shared their stories.
Gretchen Whitmer, for example, who is running for governor of the US state of Michigan tweeted “Because I was 18. I was scared. I didn’t think I’d be believed. I didn’t know where to go. I knew my assailant. I couldn’t break my parents’ hearts. I didn’t want to be defined by someone else’s violent criminal act.”
Ashley Judd tweeted “#WhyIDidntReport. The first time it happened, I was 7. I told the first adults I came upon. They said “Oh, he’s a nice old man, that’s not what he meant.” So when I was raped at 15, I only told my diary. When an adult read it, she accused me of having sex with an adult man.”
There are endless stories like this and the #WhyIDidntReportIt hashtag makes for harrowing reading. It also makes for infuriating reading. It is infuriating that sexual assault survivors have been pushed into publicly reliving their trauma because the president of the United States has shown he doesn’t take sexual abuse seriously. And it is infuriating that people are still asking why survivors of sexual abuse don’t report it, or come forward sooner, when the reasons why have been explained over and over again. If you are still asking why people don’t report sexual assault, a year after #MeToo went mainstream, then it is very clear that you haven’t been listening. Or that you simply do not want to listen.
The question we should all be asking now isn’t “Why didn’t they report it?” but “What message does this send to girls and women?”
Who is currently watching people say that even if Kavanaugh did do it, he was only 17 – as if that makes it ok. Who is currently watching Dr Ford getting ripped apart by the president of the United States and being sent the message that there is no point telling people about your assault because you won’t be believed? That is the question we should all be focused on.
Attempted rape isn’t boys will be boys. It’s criminals will be criminals.