By Savanah Norman, Op Ed, Vancouver Sun, October 13, 2018
On Thursday, September 27th 2018, we gathered around the screen in our Justice for Girls office to watch the United States Supreme Court nomination hearing. What we saw transpire with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh made us feel reluctantly grateful for not reporting the sexual assaults that we have experienced as teenage girls.
As a diverse group of women—teen to middle-aged, white, Indigenous, straight, lesbian, wealthy, poor, grade 12 to post-graduate education— every one of us related to Dr. Ford and to each other. We felt a collective nausea at the familiarity of her story. We know first-hand what happens to teenage girls at parties. Among women, it’s common knowledge that men spike drinks at parties with anything from grain alcohol (Everclear), Rohypnol, MDMA, GHB, Ketamine, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, ecstasy, and the list goes on. A number of us have had this experience; some were lucky to escape assault, some were not.
Who hasn’t been at a party where young men prey on an intoxicated girl? A girl who has lost her ability to consent to sexual activity. Drunk does not mean yes. We also know that girls are pressured to drink excessively at parties, verbally harassed, groped, trapped in rooms alone and barricaded from escaping, pinned down against walls or furniture, and woken up to being assaulted after passing out. These things happened to teen girls when Christine Blasey Ford was a teenager, and continue to happen today. The #MeToo movement is a great example of how common and normal these experiences of assault are for young women then and now.
As the women in our office watched the hearing and thought about all the young women we’ve spoken to over the past 20 years as an organization that responds to violence against teen girls, we came to the sad conclusion that our reality has not changed much . If teenage girls want to socialize with their peers and have fun at parties, they must worry about being sexually assaulted and/or drugged. Girls are given the responsibility of keeping themselves safe from rape : you shouldn’t have been drinking; you should know to never leave your drink unattended; maybe you shouldn’t have worn that or been out so late; and, in the case of the Kavanaugh gang rape allegations, you shouldn’t have continued to attend those parties. It’s like we are still in 1983, but we are not.
In 2016, Justice for Girls interviewed 51 young women and teenage girls and found that the greatest barrier to their success in education was male violence. In the 2013 Adolescent Health Survey of 30,000 B.C. youth, the McCreary Centre Society concluded that girls were six times more likely to have experienced both sexual and physical assault than boys. And, of the five percent of sexual assaults reported to the police in Canada, girls under the age of 18 make up nearly half of all victims, with sexual assault rates highest among girls aged 13 to 15.
Kavanaugh’s extraordinary sense of entitlement clearly extended to the bodies of the young women in his social group. The elite prep school and sports teams Kavanaugh so proudly pushed forward as his alibi against Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations are likely where he learned and legitimized his sexual assault tactics.
According to sociologists DeKeseredy and Schwartz, across race, class, and geography, male peer socialization groups teach, encourage and legitimize sexual assault against young women. Check locker rooms, fraternities, Facebook groups, Instagram, Snapchat, private group chats and you will find young men teaching each other how to exploit and assault young women. In many ways, ‘pussy-grabbing’ Trump was accurate to describe his boast about sexual assault as “locker room talk”. As Dekeseredy and Schwartz point out, old school locker room sexual assault socialization is now supplemented by thousands of degrading and violent pornographic depictions of women that can be accessed on a smartphone anywhere, anytime, including on the bus to school. Justice for Girls dealt with a case in which men created a Facebook page called “Deflowered in Seconds”— literally a step-by-step teaching manual on how to sexually abuse 12 and 13- year-old girls.
Thankfully, the majority of men reject the Brett Kavanaughs and Donald Trumps of this world. Many men and boys have spoken out and stand beside women who expose male violence. More must step forward now. All must intervene when a teen girl is being set up to be assaulted at a party or anywhere else. Men and boys must fight against those who give them a bad name; this is the moment in history to stand with the women and girls. Don’t worry guys, you are not required to wear a pussy hat.
More importantly, this is a huge moment for women and girls. When the Senate voted Brett Kavanaugh on to the US Supreme Court, and the White House blocked thorough, honest and impartial investigation into sexual assault allegations, all while mocking women who came forward, what did this say to women and girls? It tells us we don’t matter, we don’t have the same rights as men, and that attempting to rape women or girls won’t stop you from serving in the highest level of court. It tells us that we don’t deserve justice. It reminds us that we are not equal.
Well it won’t work. We won’t bow down to the kind of raw male power and disdain for sexual assault survivors asserted by Kavanaugh, Trump and the Republicans. We won’t let the drunken Brett Kavanaughs of the world laugh in our faces. Instead, we will strengthen our resolve and fight harder for justice. Women and girls will stop accusing men of sexual assault when men stop sexually assaulting.