Sexual Assault: Do You Tell?

Will Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s experience before the Senate Judiciary Committee encourage more women to come forward, or confirm that doing so carries too great a cost? We’ll have to see.

There is an article in the Washington Post about a woman raped by a college classmate who told the classmate’s girlfriend at the time. The girlfriend believed him that the sex was consensual, and ended the friendship. Now, in the aftermath of the Judiciary Committee hearing, the article’s author, Beth Jacob, went on Google and found her rapist — and his wife. He has, it looks like from Google, led a decent adult life. His wife may have no knowledge of his sexual aggression in college. They have children. Jacob thought about contacting him — and his wife — and decided against it. The additional damage to be done seemed to have no point.

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I read the Comments about the piece, which of course vary widely. I think it’s a hard issue.

I was assaulted by an uncle not long after my father died. Not raped, but I woke up to find his hands on my breasts and his tongue in my mouth. I was a pretty naive fourteen year old; I had no idea what the tongue thrusting down my throat even was. I didn’t cry out — I have no idea why. I was frozen, startled. I remember thinking, “This is what it means that my father is dead. [The uncle] would never have done this before.” The family had stayed with us many times.

After he left my bedroom I ran into my mother’s room. To her credit, she made them leave the next day. My uncle protested to her that he had heard me crying and went into comfort me — a flat out lie. My aunt said I must have misunderstood.

The event created distance between our families. By the time I left for college I lost touch entirely with my uncle and his family — two boys with whom I’d played as children but didn’t know as adults at all. Years later, my mother told me that one cousin and his wife were new parents of a little girl. I froze, thinking, “Uncle X can’t be left alone with that child.” I struggled over whether to get in touch with my cousin, to tell him about my experience and urge that he protect his daughter from her grandfather. I would have been, essentially, a stranger out of the blue. I thought my aunt, the child’s grandmother, had more responsibility than I. Whatever she said at the time of my assault, I believed she knew of her husband’s proclivities. In the end I said nothing.

I’ll never be sure I did the right thing.

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