COMMENTARY: It’s past time to listen to women

by Sep 21, 2018OPINIONS





Me too, meet not me. Not me has now been twice nominated to the Supreme Court, and not me clearly has an ear with the White House.

From watching the news, one would think it is 1991 again. The saga is familiar: a Supreme Court Justice nominee accused of sexual impropriety (assault this time as opposed to sexual harassment in 1991). It even has a familiar player in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and in both instances his position has been to side with the accused. In both instances the accusers were dismissed, defamed and vilified.

In 1991, as Justice Clarence Thomas awaited confirmation, a former assistant, now Professor Anita Hill, came forward with information that Thomas sexually harassed her. Hearings were a circus, and Hill’s character was assaulted. Today, it’s Brett Kavanaugh awaiting confirmation, and another professor, Christine Blasey Ford, has stated that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while in high school.

Both women offered details and were credible in their accounts. Ford is now expected to testify at hearings for Kavanaugh.

Nothing has changed since the Thomas hearings as once again those with power demonstrate why so many victims of sexual assaults and sexual harassment don’t come forward. Character assassination, shaming and victim blaming are the norm. Undeserved sympathy for the accused and undeserved concern for their future careers and reputation come with no concern for the wellbeing of the accuser. And from a White House where the president himself has been accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment, assault and has even been recorded bragging of such activities, his vigorous support for his nominee is not surprising.

This is also a White House that has defended a staffer accused of domestic violence and whose party has opposed the Violence Against Women Act, including the representative for the Eastern Band’s congressional district Mark Meadows (R-NC). That’s not to mention Trump’s consistently pejorative remarks about certain women, especially his accusers, based on their appearance.

Statistics from the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment show that 81 percent of women experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetime. That’s compared to 43 percent of men. Here’s another statistic from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. One in five women will be raped in their lifetimes compared to one in 71 men.

And according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, Native Americans are twice as likely to become victims of sexual assault as other races. The increasing number of Native American women and girls who go missing is shocking, but so is the indifference and ignorance of society to that fact. Where are the CNN broadcasts, the stories in USA Today or Wall Street Journal when a native woman or girl goes missing? Compare that to the coverage given to Elizabeth Smart or Mollie Tibbetts.

There is one somewhat fair point the other side will have. It’s “he said, she said” in these cases. While that’s often the case, whether it is sexual harassment or rape, when someone provides details, swears under oath and even passes a polygraph, it’s safe to say the accuser is credible. And the accusations need to be taken seriously in any case.

Too many times the response to such accusations has been far from adequate. In fact they’ve been almost callously dismissive and clearly unequal in terms of victims and perpetrator. Obfuscation is also a common response. Thomas suggested Hill’s accusations were a “high-tech lynching” in opposition to a black justice nominee. Ford’s accusations are being dismissed as political motivation to block a Trump nominee.

Even in cases where someone is caught in the act, getting justice is difficult. Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman by passers-by. He was convicted but given a ridiculously light sentence by a judge who felt it would unfairly impact the future for this child of privilege.

It appears as though this country and society still has a long way to go toward achieving equality, even in Indian Country where most societies are traditionally matrilineal. Women deserve better than this. Not only do men, all men, need to stop behaving in ways that degrade women, when women do bring up allegations, we all need to listen. People with power need to listen, especially when there are details, especially when there is corroborating evidence. Let’s not keep dismissing this issue. Violence against women is serious, and it needs to be taken seriously.