The Northern Star Editorial Board feels the hearings and election of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court perpetuate rape culture, the belittling of sex crimes as a result of societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.
President Donald Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination July 9, followed by allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school. Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick came forward shortly after with similar allegations. Blasey Ford’s allegations led to a Sept. 27 testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lynnea Erickson Laskowski, director of communication and prevention services at Safe Passage, said there has been a large national and local increase in the number of survivors reaching out since Kavanaugh’s confirmation Saturday. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network reported a 338 percent increase in hotline traffic in the three days following the hearing, according to their website. RAINNalso reported Sept. 28, the day after the hearing, to be the busiest-recorded day in the 24-year history of the organization, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation.
“One of the reasons survivors often don’t speak out is because there’s a fear of not being believed. Here’s a high-profile case with a credible witness reinforcing that,” Erickson Laskowski said. “This isn’t just boys being boys or locker room talk anymore. As a country at large, the way [Blasey Ford] was questioned is perpetuating rape culture.”
Senators asked Blasey Ford why she didn’t come forward sooner and pointed out Kavanaugh’s young age at the time of the alleged incident. Erickson Laskowski said hearing these questions asked reinforces survivors’ fears of illegitmacy.
“[The Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation] send the message that sexual assault is a political tool,” senior computer science major Aaron Jones, who is also president of Young Americans for Liberty, said. “I think people on both sides were seeing this as a means to an end, which is terrible.”
Political Science Chair Scot Schraufnagel said it’s important to remember the hearings were not a criminal trial but were intended as more of a job interview. He said people who feel strongly about sexual assault should consider promoting changes to the statute of limitations on such crimes.
“The statute of limitations is an issue and something we should address because we know trauma prevents survivors from coming forward immediately in most cases,” Erickson Laskowski said. “There’s a lot of victim-blaming, which we know contributes to this largely. It’s estimated 90 percent of sexual assault crimes go unreported on college campuses [and that is] in part, because of victim-blaming.”
Erickson Laskowski said students can shift the culture by getting involved in the Start by Believing movement, which emphasizes the importance of believing survivors first. She said the movement helps students and community members understand how to handle a situation in which a loved one confides in them about a sexual assault experience.
NIU Spokesperson Joe King said counseling services is reaching out to students when they believe news can be triggering, as was in this case. NIU is also hosting events such as “Sexcessful Conversations” to help students heal.
In addition, we encourage readers to get involved in government by voting, protesting when called for and reaching out to representatives to inform them of what constituents want.
“Based on the outcome of the case, it’s possible victims could be afraid to come forward, and that’s unfortunate,” senior economics major Bryson Reyes, who is also president of the College Republicans, which is currently inactive, said. “There are more women running than ever, and, hopefully, they’ll be inspired to represent victims.”
Erickson Laskowski said the election of Kavanaugh should serve as a call to the country to take sexual assault more seriously because our nation has yet to come to terms with discussions on sexual assault. Junior political science major Ian Pearson, who is also president of the College Democrats, said the public’s reactions are important.
“It’s really amazing we reached a point where we can not only openly discuss issues of sexual assault, but we’re actually acting, and people are advocating to change the culture,” Pearson said. “I think the mass demonstrations show, for the majority of Americans, this is truly a time we want to change the culture, and [the Kavanaugh confirmation] does not reflect that.”