Trump asked why Kavanaugh’s accuser didn’t report him at the time. History provides some answers
Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto University professor accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were high schoolers, says she never called police and did not speak about the incident to anyone for decades after the alleged attack in the early 1980s.
Trying to discredit her story, President Trump tweeted Friday that he had “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.”
But according to decades of social science, surveys of sexual assault victims and crime reporting data from federal government agencies, there is a lot of room for doubt.
“People are expecting this woman to have realized she was a crime victim and that she should have gone to the police,” said Mary Koss, a professor at the University of Arizona who coined the term “date rape” in the 1980s and has studied how assault victims respond to trauma. “These ideas are all completely inconsistent with actual facts. They are myths.”
Studies show that many sexual assault survivors do not report to police now and have been less likely to do so in the past when laws defining sex abuse were more vague and resources for victims were less available.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, 310 out of 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to authorities; 2 out of 3 go unreported. The numbers were compiled from data collected from 2010 to 2014 and include assaults against men.
Justice Department data also show that 20% of survivors do not report their assaults out of fear of retaliation, while 13% do not report because they think police will not be helpful, 13% believe their experiences are personal matters, and 7% do not want to get perpetrators in trouble. Those numbers were collected from 2005 to 2010.
After Trump tweeted about Ford, who had requested the FBI look into her allegation and on Saturday agreed to testify this week in front of senators, thousands of men and women wrote on Twitter about their assaults with the hashtag #WhyIDidnt-Report. They included politicians, celebrities and journalists.
“I did report, but it was dismissed by the police,” tweeted Janet Garrett, a Democrat who is running to represent Ohio in the 4th Congressional District. “I know what it is like. I understand the shame and humiliation and why people don’t report.”
“Because I had never seen a survivor come forward and be treated with dignity, so why would I believe my case would be different?” tweeted Emily Sioma, who represented Michigan in this year’s Miss America pageant.
The responses are similar to the account from Ford, who first spoke to the Washington Post recently about the incident in which she said Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, groped her, rubbed his body against hers and attempted to remove her bathing suit while holding his hand over her mouth. She said it happened during a house party when she was 15 and he was 17, and that Kavanaugh and a friend of his who was there were drunk. Ford said she escaped, locked herself in a bathroom and then left the building with no memory of how she got home.
Kavanaugh denied the allegations. Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s friend who Ford said was present, said that the interaction didn’t happen and that he would not testify before senators.
According to the Post, Ford did not tell her parents in part because she was worried of their response to her being at a party with underage drinking. She added, “my biggest fear was, do I look like someone just attacked me?”
“I’m not ever telling anyone this,” she told the newspaper, recalling her thought process. “This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.”
The description matches responses many teens and college-age women had after assaults in the 1980s, Koss said. While at Kent State University in 1987, Koss and her colleagues conducted a national survey of 3,187 female students from 32 universities that asked about their experiences with rape since age 14. In results that scholars and activists still cite today, 1 in 4 women said they had been raped or experienced attempted rape. Almost half the incidents happened while the women were high schoolers. Only 3% of attempted-rape victims and 8% of rape victims called police. The survey also found that 42% of women had told no one about what happened.
“Women would say, ‘I didn’t realize it was rape’ or ‘I didn’t realize attempted rape counts,’” Koss said. Many men and women give similar accounts in recent studies about rape.
In surveys, sexual assault victims — then and now — have also complained about perpetrators walking free as a reason for not reporting rape.
According to analysis of federal surveys and data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only 6 out of 1,000 rapists go to prison. Just 57 out of 1,000 rape cases lead to arrests, while 11 of those on average will be referred to prosecutors. FBI crime data show that 95,730 rapes were reported in 2016, which the government says represent a fraction of those attacks.
Experts say part of the problem is the perception that police and prosecutors are unwilling to fairly investigate sexual assault.
“Sexual assault victims who summon the courage to report the crime to the police are often subjected to a criminal justice system that seems insensitive, uncaring, or even hostile to victims,” says a guide released in May by the Police Executive Research Forum.
“Over time, police have learned how they interact with victims plays a huge role in their willingness to come forward,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the forum, which he said has undertaken efforts to improve police response to assault reports. “There was a time when police unwittingly might ask questions that further victimized women coming in. The sensitivity of the issue was not as apparent as it is today.”
12:20 p.m.: This article was updated to include news that Christine Blasey Ford has agreed to testify in front of senators next week.
This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m.
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