Essay / Ruby Clavey / September 2018

I Believe Women

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Written by Ruby Clavey

Illustrated by Alyssa Luongo

When I left New Zealand and moved to Burlington, the culture shock was minimal. I made great friends and drank dope coffee. I loved the air of acceptance, that you could be who you are and love who you love. The only aspect I didn’t love were American toilets. (Aggressive flushes and gaps in cubicle doors… I’m not a fan.)

As a journalism student I follow the news, it’s my forte. New Zealand receives a lot of bad press about Americaaka The Trump Administration. When Trump was elected I was devastated. I was miles away, but felt the sting.

The first time I experienced real culture shock was after multiple conversations about gun control in America. I don’t believe in guns; I resent their existence. The second time I experienced culture shock was on September 27, the day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified at Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing.

After Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Dr. Ford came publically forward, accusing him of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school. (She’d anonymously reported the assault back when he was just on the shortlist for the job but she was forced to come forward after he was officially nominated.)

I excitedly tuned into the livestream, ready to witness a historical moment. A victory for women. This excitement gradually turned into dread. I became anxious, secluded, unable to carry on conversations with my friends. I laid in bed that night rewatching moments of the trial over and over again.

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me…”

The next morning I woke to The New York Times headline “With a Key Vote Secured, Senators Will Advance Kavanaugh’s Nomination.” I laid in bed, unable to move. I realized that I was at a disastrous disadvantage by being a woman living in America. I had just left my country, where Jacinda Ardern had recently been elected Prime Minister while pregnant. It was badass, and set the bar high for women’s rights in New Zealand.  

I watched as each senator made their statements, with the majority defending the character of a man accused of sexual misconduct by three different women. In the days leading up to the hearing, I had been confident that Kavanaugh wouldn’t be voted in. A single accusation of sexual assault is horrifying, but three? I thought it would be madness to vote for someone of his character. I joked about Kavanaugh, saying how humiliating this hearing would be for him, what a waste of time it would be. He would never land the job after such allegations.

I tend to think the best of people, always placing them on pedestals. Never in a million years did I think Kavanaugh would get enough votes to become a Supreme Court Justice. I assumed that his actions, and his behaviour at the hearing, would be enough for his nomination to be terminated.

If they let Kavanaugh off the hook, they will discredit any women who have or will experience sexual assault. Every 98 seconds, someone in the United States becomes a sexual assault victim. There are approximately 321,500 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. These statistics are haunting. Before the hearing, I knew the rates of sexual assault in America were high, but I never imagined that.

This hearing felt personal. People we all know and love are part of this statistic. Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, I was sexually assaulted by someone I considered a close friend. Someone who was thought of as a “golden boy” in our hometown. Someone people would believe over me. He broke my trust and humiliated me.

My senses understood the seriousness of what he did before my brain had time to catch up. I threw out a certain brand of hand soap in my bathroom because it smelt like him. I didn’t drink alcohol for a year because it tasted like him. I put his jacket in a black bag at the bottom of my wardrobe because the sight of it confused me.

For two years, I didn’t associate his actions with the term “sexual assault.” Much like Dr. Ford said: I convinced myself that because [he] did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.” I let him off the hook because the lines appeared blurred. It wasn’t until I confided in a friend and recalled the event out loud that I realized the extent of his betrayal. Watching another powerful man’s adolescent actions excused felt like salt in a wound.

I seldom think about what I experienced as an eighteen year old; blocking it out works for me. Hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony made everything bubble to the surface; I felt protective of women and needed to speak up.

This hearing is so much larger than just Kavanaugh. It is an enormous discussion, and it has consequences. While this is upsetting and incomprehensible, it is also a time of unity and strength for women worldwide. Though many support the antagonist in this nightmare, I hope that the majority believe Dr. Ford.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the world will witness the American government treat people inhumanely for generations, and the cycle of abuse will continue. It simply cannot happen.

To anyone who believes their power puts them above right and wrong: your time is up. I cannot stomach this moment in American history. I refuse to move forward. I refuse to “get on with it.” And I refuse to be terrified.

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