I want to tell you a story. No, scratch that introduction. This is not something I want to do. I need to tell you a story. This is a story that has needed to be told for quite some time. It’s a true story, so I will take a little literary license with the details to masque the identities of those involved; but the story remains true enough that those involved will know the truth of this story. Both the guilty and the innocent will know the truth of this.
It was 40 years ago. A young woman stumbled into a frat party near a lake. She was naked. Her hair was matted with twigs and dirt. She was half-drowned, very drunk and confused. She said she had escaped from someone trying to kill her. She was raving. She sounded crazy. Someone had snuck up behind her while she was answering the call of nature. A few too many beers, she said. He had raped her, tried to strangle her, and then dumped what he thought was her dead body in the lake. “I’m a good swimmer” she declared, triumphantly.
No one that found her knew who she was. She had been brought to the party by friends from another frat. Just looking at her, you could tell, she had been through some serious trauma. So these benefactors, these people who had no idea who she was, took her to the hospital where it was confirmed that she had been raped by someone. The police were called. Yes, she said. I want to press charges. Yes, she said, I know who it was that raped me and tried to kill me. She gave his name to the police.
…and that was when the trouble started. This young man was well known, a hometown kid. She was a nobody. She had been shipped off to this far-away place because she had gotten pregnant.
Her high school sweetheart had been insisting they should have sex for most of their senior year. They had just graduated. It was time to celebrate, so she finally gave in to his desires and her own. And why not? She wasn’t going to the college she wanted to attend. Her parents had refused to send her to Europe, to the conservatory that had invited her to attend. A full scholarship, if she could only get there. To Europe, where her musical talents could be properly honed. They refused to buy her a plane ticket, even though they could pay for it. “You can’t make a living playing music” they told her. So here she was, in the arms of the man she thought she would marry. There was little else to look forward to, from her perspective.
She wasn’t stupid. She knew that she could get pregnant, but she loved him. She thought he loved her, until she found out she was pregnant and told him. Then he disavowed her. He said he’d never had sex with her, so it couldn’t be his child. He was going to the college he wanted, after all. He couldn’t stay there, get married and raise kids. That just wasn’t his plans for his future.
Alone and pregnant, she was sent away to live with foster parents. Sent away to a place where none of the friends and family would know of her dirty little secret. The dirty secret that she had been foolish enough to believe a man when he told her he loved her.
She did the right thing. She carried the child to term, because that’s what you are supposed to do. She carried the child to term and gave it up for adoption. That was the christian thing to do. Accept your punishment for having sex, and give birth to children you can’t afford. Children that you give away to strangers who can afford to raise them for you. She went through all of that, because that was what she was supposed to do.
With the embarrassment of nine months of a belly she didn’t want, a child she couldn’t keep, couped up with people she barely knew but strangely adopted as parents anyway; with all of that behind her, she set her sights on doing the best with what she had left of her life plans.
She still had her musical talent, even if she wouldn’t be touring Europe as part of an orchestra, the role she really was suited for. Her college friends envied her her gift, a natural ear for music and the ability to pick up nearly any instrument and play it well enough to shine in state competitions. But teaching music was the best she could hope for now. She didn’t relish the thought of teaching others to play, but if that was the best she could do, that is what she would shoot for.
A few months into her delayed college education, she was invited to that fateful party. She had a little too much to drink. She had the misfortune of needing to relieve herself. She left herself vulnerable to the jealous and the talentless, albeit well-liked, hometown boy. A hometown boy with a grudge.
Once again, she did the right thing. The thing you are supposed to do. She knew her attacker, even though she was drunk at the time. She knew what he had tried to do to her, had actually thought he had achieved. He thought she was dead when he left her floating in the water. She would be just another body found washed up on a beach somewhere.
A tragic accident. Except it was rape and attempted murder, and you don’t let that go unpunished. She pressed charges against the hometown boy, faced him in court. She accused him of the crimes that there was far more than sufficient evidence for. She accused him from the stand, and yet he was found not guilty by the jury.
Why was he found not guilty? Because she had done the right thing, over and over. She had yielded to the man she wanted to marry. She had carried the resultant child to birth and given it away. She had shrugged it all off and made the best of what she had left. She had the temerity to stand tall and not be embarrassed by the things society told her were embarrassing. Why should it be embarrassing? Doing the right thing should be praiseworthy. Shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it?
“But,” they said, “she was a loose woman.” This was evident because she had given birth recently. Given birth instead of having an abortion and hiding the evidence of her improprieties, her loose ways. Loose women just want to have sex, and clearly she wanted to have sex with this hometown boy. When he rejected her, she staged the entire scene. Choked herself, tried to drown herself, rolled around in the dirt, naked, and threw herself on unsuspecting strangers in order to malign the hometown boy. Who was the court to believe? This loose woman, spirited away from her family and friends in order to save their reputations? Or should the court believe this fine, upstanding hometown boy who, while musically talentless, was still a handsome young man with a promising future? Who indeed?
Who indeed? Not guilty. Case dismissed. Free as a bird, he flew. Still flies. As I said, a true story. True enough, anyway.
So when I read stories about why didn’t they come forward? In the news these days, news about high profile judges and corporate leaders and politicians galore, men of high stature accused of the wrongs that they’ve hidden in plain sight until finally some woman has had enough that she just won’t take it anymore and risks everything to shine the light of justice on these loathsome individuals, I don’t even have to ask
Why don’t they come forward?
I know why.
They didn’t come forward before, and most of them will not come forward now because they won’t be believed. As the latest accusations about Brett Kavanaugh circulate, while the Pussy Grabber-in-Chief defends him, and the same old song and dance plays out. The women are condemned while the guilty men fly free. Just like it always has happened before.
These women are not believed by far, far too many people. It’s too convenient not to believe if believing means you have to change who and what you think is right in the world. You wouldn’t come forward if you were them, and you are deluded if you think otherwise. Until these guilty men are punished there are not enough people who believe the women. That is the simple fact in front of all of us right now. Until they are punished, there will be no justice for women in this world.
You tell me the world has changed much since 1994.
And yet here you are, telling me that we should put that same old mindset, boys will be boys, all boys do it, on the Supreme Court and you know, it’s hard for me to see that much of anything has changed at all.Stonekettle Station