Loretta Barnard

When women say we’ve been sexually assaulted, believe us

ford

Doubt is now being levelled at Christine Blasey Ford in the wake of the FBI’s findings, but that shouldn’t distract from what we women regularly face.

 

 

When the President of the United States recently mocked the high-profile victim of a sexual assault because she couldn’t recall the finer details of the incident, the world became a more wretched place. Your feelings don’t matter, he said, now be a good girl, stop being mean to this particular man who’s a pillar of society and let the men get on with the important jobs. Go back to the kitchen, he effectively ordered, get out of our faces. It was a dismissal, a shameful, insensitive and brutal action from a man whose position as leader of the free world has been even further demeaned.

The #MeToo movement has been gaining momentum for a while now and it’s high time too – actions have consequences, even if those consequences don’t come until many years later – and yet there are still many men, and sadly some women too, who seem to think that if something happened in the past it should stay in the past. But many of us have had enough. Let me tell you a story.

One summer night more than forty years ago I went to a party in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with some girlfriends. We were 17 and looking forward to hanging out with our friends, dancing, laughing, having a few illicit drinks. Maybe if we were lucky, we’d be asked on a date.

When one of the hot guys asked me to dance, I was delighted. Handsome and athletic, he knew he was attractive to the opposite sex and exuded a confidence others could only dream about. But only a minute or so into the dance he had me in a vice-like embrace, my arms pinned to his side and he was pushing himself against me. He forced his mouth against mine so roughly that my head jolted back and before I knew it his tongue was snaking its way down my throat. I struggled to get out of his grip and told him to stop what he was doing, but he had a demon’s hold and a feeling of real panic washed over me. I’d always felt I had an assertive personality, but he wasn’t taking the slightest bit of notice of my increasingly desperate pleas for him to desist. It was only when my girlfriends came over and started hitting him with their tiny handbags that he released me.

Let’s be clear – he didn’t rape me. Maybe he would have if we’d been in a more secluded spot and not on a makeshift dance floor in a Bondi backyard. But I was deeply shaken, upset and angry, and while I’ve forgotten other details of that night, such as whose party it was, what street it was on, what I had to drink, what I wore and so on – all minor in the scheme of things – I have never forgotten that sense of violation I felt when that young man thought he could do with me as he wanted.


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So when women come out and tell their stories of sexual assault I believe them. I believe them without question. I will never forget how I felt that night all those years ago and I can still visualise the guy in question – whom I’d known for some time – forcing himself upon me, an unwilling and increasingly frightened girl. When Dr Christine Blasey Ford spoke about her alleged sexual assault by the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I had no doubt whatsoever that she was telling the truth.

Her experience was much worse than mine, much worse. And she had so much to lose.

Some people don’t seem to realise that women do not make these allegations lightly. Women don’t want to go public, they really don’t. These traumatic events in their lives are deeply distressing and not only do the women affected not want people to know about them, they also don’t want to re-live the whole thing over again and again in a public forum. Believe me, they really don’t.

Dr Ford has lived with this assault her whole life, because these things are profoundly and indelibly affecting, but like the great majority of women who’ve been unfortunate enough to experience sexual violence, she has an inner resilience. Women are resilient – they have to be. It’s a survival thing. Dr Ford got on with her life and is now a professor of psychology.

Like other women in similar situations, she’s been roundly criticised for keeping quiet for decades. She’s been vilified, condemned for supposedly trying to destroy the reputation of a “fine upstanding man”. Donald Trump suggests that Dr Ford has fabricated these stories to destroy a man who may have had a “little fun” in his youth. But why would she do this? She’s suffered decades of anguish over what happened to her and only reluctantly came forth in the interests of justice, to speak out about the mixed morals of a man who’s been offered a seat in the highest court in the US justice system. She didn’t do this for herself.

She did it for others.

Other women have written far more eloquently than I about their nightmarish experiences at the hands of privileged men who feel they’re entitled to their fun whether there’s consent or not; privileged men who put themselves above everyone else, seemingly exempt from accepted morality; privileged men who have no respect for women.

All I can do is add my small voice and say enough is enough.

 

Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is a freelance writer and editor who has authored four non-fiction books, been a contributing writer to a wide range of reference books and whose essays have been published across a number of platforms. A regular contributor to The Big Smoke, she also coordinates the TBS Next Gen program.

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