In a moment that’s bound to go down as one of the ugliest in our nation’s history, the question is where do we go from here.
Whether you believed Judge Brett Kavanaugh or his accuser Christine Blasey Ford, we can safely agree on one thing: It’s horrible what happened and we, as a country, can do better.
Much will be said about the lessons learned. But from a woman’s perspective, I’d like to offer just three.
To young girls in high school and college: document your injustices. Stand up for what you know is right. And never forget to pray for your enemies. Doing so could hopefully protect you from a lot of pain.
Document Your Injustices
Women—and girls—need to change the way we think about sexual consent. If doesn’t feel right, speak up right away. In the #MeToo era, men are listening in a way they weren’t before. But even so, bedrooms are still filled with mixed signals and confusing definitions of consent. Nothing can replace basic communication. We need to tell young girls and women if you experience any discomfort or second-guessing, speak up. Communicate early and clearly before it’s too late.
Of course, that’s easier said than done and far too often, communication isn’t enough. When that’s the case the next best step is documenting the injustice that occurred. In a genuine attempt to express empathy towards victims, society has downplayed the importance of reporting. It’s a mistake we pay the price for every day.
There is no shortage of reasons why women decline to come forward, and for that they should never be shamed. But that shouldn’t stop us from strongly encouraging if not pressuring women to report and document any misconduct within a reasonable time that it occurs. For those who want to confront their perpetrators, a paper trail will be your strongest defense. But for those on the fence or maybe not ready, a paper trail will empower you with the freedom you need, should you change your mind.
Reporting sexual assault doesn’t always mean going to the police. Although in cases of rape and violent assault, that should always be the case. Reporting sexual misconduct could also mean reporting it to school officials, doctors, parents, or private attorneys. It could mean saving old text messages, recording abusive behavior, or confiding in a best friend. For better or for worse, as we learned with Christine Blasey Ford, any evidence is better than none.
Even when women do document their assault, they don’t always get the justice they deserve. But that’s not an excuse to do nothing.
It’s time to challenge the status quo and tell women the truth: there’s consequences for declining to come forward. Consequences could last a lifetime.
And a point that can’t be stressed enough, coming forward won’t just protect the victim—but also, the next woman who stands to be abused. Men who commit sexual abuse and assault are often repeat offenders. If you don’t report the abuse for yourself, do it for your fellow sister. Reporting the best way to can pay it forward.
Stand Up for What You Know Is Right
Despite female leaders such as Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton telling women that because we’re born with certain body parts we must think and vote a certain way, women disagree with one another. We always have, and we always will.
Our disagreements become especially difficult in sensitive conversations surrounding sexual harassment and assault. Say the wrong thing, and critics will accuse you of not caring. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, learned the hard way when the Women’s March slandered her as a “rape apologist” for supporting Kavanaugh.
The sad truth is, most women have experienced some form of an unwelcomed advance. For that reason, we—as women—are inclined to believe one another. But giving women the benefit of the doubt and wanting to hear them out is far different from “believing all women” in a legal sense. #MeToo is turning radical, and we’re forgetting that there’s a way to believe women while also believing in basic principles such as due process and the presumption of innocence.
When groups such as the Women’s March smear U.S. Senators as “rape apologies” for asking for corroboration and evidence before ruining a man’s life, it’s tempting for women who value founding principles to walk away and keep their politically unpopular thoughts to themselves. But now is the time to double down.
Take it from Laura Cox Kaplan, a personal friend of Judge Kavanaugh who decided to speak up despite the ugly accusations she would face.
“We have a responsibility as women to express a point of view,” she said on Thursday morning on Capitol Hill in the face of protests.
“In this particular case, we have personal knowledge of this nominee, we also happen to have what feels like a different point of view than an awful lot of women. We think it’s important for women to see women expressing points of views that they hold dear, that they hold strongly in, we believe that is very empowering to all women. We do not at all make light of anyone who has been assaulted or suffered a trauma, but we also believe that it’s important for women to have a voice even if that’s a voice that seems, at times, to run counter to what seems to be the popular point of view.
It's easy to fight for what’s popular. It’s hard to fight for what’s right. In cases of sexual harassment and assault, where women are especially central to the conversation, it’s crucial for all sides to be engaged and involved. If women back down during times of crisis, our voice will be defined by those of groups like Planned Parenthood and the Women’s March. Sure, we’ll still quietly show up at the polls, but we’ll risk losing the next generation of women who are brave enough to think for themselves.
Pray for Your ‘Enemies’
When it comes to the fight against sexual assault, women are ultimately on the same team. We might differ in what’s required to punish those accused, but we all want justice for those who were wronged.
These differences will always be a struggle. Women are diverse, independent thinkers, and those differences will likely deepen. But at the end of the day it’s important to remember that we’re on the same team. The only “enemies” in this fight are the perpetrators.
For that reason, the most important lesson to learn from the Kavanaugh confirmation is to pray for your enemies.
“I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family,” Kavanaugh said during the hearing through tears. “The other night, Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers. And little Liza, all of 10 years old, said to Ashley, ‘We should pray for the woman.’”
Little Liza is right. In this fight against sexual assault, we must stop and pray for those with whom we disagree. Doing so is the best way to remind ourselves that despite our differences, we’re in this together. Women are on the same team.
Moving forward, the most important message is this: Stand up for what you know is right, but in the process, pray for the other side.
Because thoughts and prayers matter, despite what others say.