Spectacles like last week’s hearing about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, fortunately, are rare, but the demeanor of both the nominee and some Senate Judiciary Committee members seemed to reflect a network reality show. Does juvenile behavior beget juvenile behavior? Privilege, rather than responsibility, seemed to be on display, in striking contrast to the sensitive testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It was a raw, emotional day for participant and viewer alike, presenting an opportunity for another national conversation about sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct – at home and at work – affecting family members, friends, colleagues and, sometimes, strangers. It is said that we can never make a better yesterday, but we surely can make a better tomorrow – and that should start now!
It is understandable why a young teenager would keep quiet for decades, out of fear, embarrassment, or punishment. That was then; this is now. Sexual assault never has been OK. I recall the time when our daughter, in middle school, got off the bus in tears. She had been assaulted on the bus by another student, who put a big stick up her skirt, and made sexual remarks. Although she didn’t want me to do anything about the incident, I bundled her into the car and went right back to the school, demanding to speak with the principal. The boy was banned from riding the bus (today, he might be suspended or expelled), and there were no further incidents, at least for our daughter. Had I not been home that afternoon, she might have kept the incident to herself.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct, report it to the appropriate authorities. In a life-threatening emergency, call 911 and ask for immediate help. You also can call the non-emergency number, 703-691-2131, and ask for an officer to respond. This morning, Fairfax County leaders are participating to “Make the Call” to end domestic violence. The hotline number is 703-360-7273. The Community Services Board also has a hotline for emergency services – 703-573-5679. Many businesses have a specific process for addressing sexual harassment claims in the workplace. Find out what that process is, or ask the human resources officer for assistance. School personnel, health care workers, and others, as part of their jobs, are required to report incidents of sexual assault. There is help available, and victims never should feel that they are alone, for they are not.
Many other issues are difficult or awkward to talk about, but the stigma gradually is changing. We must talk about sexual assault, and suicide, and sexual identity, and many other subjects that until recently, were considered something that had to be kept quiet, or whispered only, for fear that “someone might find out.” Resistance and resilience are closely entwined, and they strengthen one another. Resistance and resilience are building blocks that we all can utilize, to ensure that there is no next young woman afraid to reveal what has happened to her and, ideally, that no young woman, or young man, ever has to face that trauma again.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.