The Reasons Why Women Don't Report
I did not watch Dr. Ford’s testimony at the Kavanaugh hearings, nor have I read more than blurbs on social media written by strongly opinionated people on both sides of the issue. What I do know, from experience, is that the validity of Dr. Ford’s story cannot be based on the fact that she did not report thirty years ago.
My abuse from an uncle began when I was twelve and continued until I was sixteen. I am now forty-six. Dr. Ford and I have the 80’s in common. I have still never reported my abuse to the authorities, but like Dr. Ford, I did decide to tell my story to possibly help other women who have been through, or are going through, similar experiences. Luckily for me, I don’t have to testify at a confirmation hearing, and my life is not being threatened. Although not everyone in my life is happy about the release of my book, A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass, and Some Serious Baggage, my existence is largely unchanged.
As a teen in the 80’s, I belonged to a conservative Mormon culture in a tiny Idaho town, but in the 80’s, there were a lot of conservative cultures, and women were not encouraged to speak about things like sexual assault or abuse. Going to the authorities did not cross my mind, just as I’m sure it didn’t for most victims at that time. We knew it felt terribly wrong personally, but we could not be sure that if we came forward that we would be protected, believed, or if we would be punished because it would be somehow our fault. I recalled the following memory in my book:
I know you don’t start dating until you are sixteen, but you need to decide now to be young women of value,” said Sister Pigg, my Sunday School teacher. She held a white rose in her pudgy hand as she spoke. “Do not tempt our young men, our priesthood holders, from the straight and narrow.” She pointed her rose at each one of us as she said, “You must save yourself for marriage because your purity is the most important thing you bring to an eternal union. The temple is not for the immoral, and the gospel tells us the Holy Ghost does not communicate with those who are im-” Sister Pigg drew her rose back behind her ear. “pure.” She flicked it forward with such flourish that the snowy white bloom flew off its stem and fell to the burnt orange and gray-green industrial carpet. (pg. 105)
We were a generation of women who did not know Anita Hill yet, had heard time and time again that ‘boys would be boys’, and knew there was a limit to what we could do or be.
We not only felt insecure in our world, but often in our relationships with other women, even other women in our family. Although I never reported to authorities, I did tell my aunt at age twenty-two what her husband had done to me because she had also been abused by him. He had gotten at least two of his young, innocent secretaries pregnant. And, we had no idea how many other victims there had been. My friends, Jeanne and Bert, convinced me on a backpacking trip through Europe to tell my aunt what had happened to me in hopes that she would leave him for good. She did divorce him, and she paid for my counseling, but she also asked me not to report.
“Who else have you told? Have you gone to the authorities? Do you plan to?” “Uh, I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. Jeanne and Bert are the only people who know besides you.” “I want you to do something for me. Don’t prosecute Ray. He would be disbarred and if he’s disbarred, he can’t support the boys. I know you must hate him but promise me you won’t go to the authorities.” I would do whatever Steph asked me to. Besides, I still believed bad people got what was coming to them one way or another. “Okay.”
I don’t blame my aunt. She was in the same culture I was, and she was trying to protect her kids. My uncle has not really ever gotten what was coming to him. He was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for a total of six months. My aunt was told that he called everyone he had hurt, and they had forgiven him. I never received a phone call, but I did receive a message very loud and clear. A man’s way of life, his integrity, his future, is to be protected, while a woman’s is not nearly as valuable, perhaps even expendable.
In hindsight, I wished I had reported, but there is nothing I can do about that now. What I can do, is tell my truth and possibly influence someone to stand up for themselves and other victims. It would be a travesty if Dr. Ford, myself, or any other victim, is labeled a liar because they did not report at the time of the incident. For many of us, we had to process the events and heal, we had to wait to feel supported, and we needed to gain the courage that only maturity and experience can bring before we can tell a very difficult part of our life story.
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