This is so much bigger than Brett Kavanaugh, or the outcome of his nomination.
Women are suddenly opening their secret wounds. Their trauma — often many decades old — is becoming, for the first time, public. So are their tears.
Enduring a sexual assault is only the beginning of the journey through hell.
This is the awareness that has accompanied the Kavanaugh nomination and the politically motivated dismissal of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against him, beginning with Donald Trump’s all-knowing tweet: “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. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
It’s not easy being vulnerable!
But Trump’s callous ignorance has opened up the gates of grief and fury.
“I was watching CNN and I just broke down. I just lost it. I finally started experiencing the emotion.”
This is law professor Jeanne Woods, a friend and correspondent, talking to me a few days ago, letting it out. She was raped 45 years ago, when she was 20 years old, living in her own apartment (first time ever, her own place) in West Philadelphia.
What happened to her wasn’t simply horrific. It came wrapped in shame and confusion. This is my fault. This is my fault. Shhhhh. Tell no one.
The perpetrator was the former student of a friend, a young man struggling with his life. He had been in jail. He needed guidance — somebody to listen to him and give him encouragement. The friend had asked Jeanne if she could help him out and she was happy to oblige.
The following is a combination of Jeanne’s written account of what happened and my interview with her:
“We chatted amicably for several hours. We shared our mutual love of Khalil Gibran. (It was the seventies.) In my naiveté, when he said he had no place to go, I allowed this man I barely knew to stay overnight. I said, OK, you can crash on the sofa.”
In the middle of the night, he came into the bedroom and hit her in the head with an empty wine bottle. “There was glass in the bed, glass in my hair. I didn’t lose consciousness, I woke up.”
He tied her up, held a knife to her throat, raped her. “He refused to leave for three days, until he was sure I would never tell.”
Even then, when he finally left, she wasn’t finished with the ordeal. He tried to break into her apartment a short while later, but someone was with her and he gave up his attempt. She moved.
That was her last encounter with him.
And she moved on with her life. She told a few friends, but not the person who had asked her to meet with the attacker. She did not report it to police.
“Fear, shame. It was my fault! I had let somebody stay in my apartment. I asked for it.
“At a minimum,” she wrote to me, “your reputation will be dragged through the mud. You will be called a liar, your accusation diminished by the flippant descriptor, ‘he said, she said,’ portraying your experience as frivolous.
“It’s the curse of Eve. Woman as Temptress. I remember my all-girls Catholic high school, the nuns intoning, ‘girls, be chaste, be pure,’ because boys just can’t help themselves. If ‘something happens’ it is our fault. Our responsibility.”
So Jeanne bore this private blame for most of her life: “I did not allow myself to feel anger or grief. I never cried about it, even in private. I just picked up with my life as if nothing had happened.
“The Kavenaugh travesty has allowed me to cry at last, forty-five years after the event. Thank you Brett, and Chuck and Orrin for this public spectacle, for parading your misogyny before the world. It has ripped off the scabs, forced me to relive my terror, forced me to feel my grief. Hopefully, soon (with your help) I will get to the righteous anger that is my due. I am on my way to healing, as the nation is on its way to coming to grips with our diseased, pussy-grabbing culture.”
Three accusers have now come forward against Kavanaugh and the culture of male privilege in which he came of age, with allegations ranging from indecent exposure to attempted rape to possible participation in gang rape. The accusations are getting harder and harder for Republicans to ignore, dismiss or “plow through.”
But beyond the guilt or innocence of the nominee, America’s culture of shame is being torn to shreds as women like Jeanne Woods simply come forward with their stories. CNN reported, for instance, that the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which maintains the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE), experienced a 57 percent increase in calls since Ford came forward with her initial accusation.
And spurred by Trump’s dismissive tweet, hundreds of thousands of people, both women and men, have begun sharing their stories of abuse under the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, according to CBS.
The culture is shifting, as the short-term agendas and long-term misogyny of so many of the nation’s “leaders” are being interrupted, at long last, by the outrage of victims who suddenly realize they are not alone.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.