Opinion: Stop using survivors as political pawns
I was sexually assaulted for the first time in the ninth grade by a boy who forcefully grabbed my genitals and made a foul remark while I swapped books at my locker between classes. I cried, not because he hurt me, but because I was shocked. In a matter of seconds, a thoughtless person had robbed me of the belief that my personal space was inviolable without my consent.
Like the legions of Americans who have experienced sexual assault, last week’s testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and the attendant news coverage, left me seething with rage.
Unlike the sexual assault victims I have spoken with, what makes my stomach roil is the politicization of the affair, which had only the thinnest veneer of concern for assault victims. The elected officials and talking heads who fear a Republican majority on the Supreme Court are salivating at the opportunity provided by Ford’s nearly unprovable accusation, which is permanently damning for Kavanaugh now that it has been levied before the nation.
Politicians are taking advantage not just of one victim, but of the firestorm of anger from victims of sexual assault across the country, who are happy to string Kavanaugh up as a straw man, and as a stand-in for their own attackers.
Because this is inherently political, our elected representatives are encouraging Americans to equate their morality with their political affiliations, with the “good” left supporting a sexual assault victim and the “bad” right sticking up for an alleged attacker.
If this flash-in-the-pan blast of caring was more than a political hit, then the politicians in Washington would be furiously addressing the real problem: the continual plague of sexual assaults occurring in American schools.
According to research from the Associated Press, 17,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported in K-12 schools across the country between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 school years. Turning Point Macomb, a Michigan-based sexual assault and domestic violence support group, estimates that only 28 percent of sexual assaults are reported.
In high school, I reported my incident, but only after much prodding from concerned friends. My attacker was expelled, but readmitted the following year. For the rest of my high school career, my attacker’s friends, and even some teachers, used a variety of hurtful tactics that did more to reinforce my sense of worthlessness than anything my attacker had done to me.
Last week, I watched with a familiar sense of disgust as the senators on the Judiciary Committee, with their sanctimonious looks and oozing words, lorded over two adults whose allegations and possible misdeeds are 36 years in the past.
We sexual assault survivors should be enraged, but not just about this case. We should be disgusted that we are being used as pawns in the name of politics.
I am in the pursuit of advocates like Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, whose legislation to remove attackers from the schools where they committed sexual assaults passed in May. There are many hurdles left to overcome, in Michigan and around the country, but at least people like Theis are on the ground making a difference.
Beth Bailey is a Pinckney-based freelance writer.