politics

'It meant reliving one of the worst moments of my life.' Why #WhyIDidntReport went viral.

Warning: This post is about sexual assault and may cause distress for some readers.

Last year the #MeToo movement used social media as a powerful protest tool.

Those who were ready to speak about their experiences of sexual assault and abuse went public with their stories, and people were forced to take notice.

You may have seen another hashtag go viral over the weekend. This time, it aims to answer a question often asked of victims: Why didn’t you report it?

Thousands of women and men shared their stories of sexual assault, and why they did not report their abusers with #WhyIDidntReport.

The hashtag was trending online all weekend, and it’s no surprise that reading its messages stir up a lot of feelings: The stories are maddening, powerful and heartbreaking.

Where did the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag come from?

People shared the challenges in reporting abuse after United States President Donald Trump took to his very public diary, Twitter, to question why Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, took so long to come forward.

“If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed,” he tweeted.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Ford alleged that Kavanaugh and a friend – both “stumbling drunk” – corralled her into a bedroom during the 1980s.

Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and bathing suit. When she screamed, he covered her mouth with his hand.

She said she was able to escape when his friend, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them and sent them all tumbling. She ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

Ford told no one of the incident until 2012, when she and her husband were in couples therapy.

Earlier this year she wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging the assault. In the early weeks of September, she watched her story be told without her name or consent.

She decided to come forward: If her story was going to be told, she wanted to be the one to do it.

In a statement to the Post, Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegation.

As Ford’s lawyers negotiated to give her more time to decide if she would give testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump shared a number of tweets.

He had earlier tweeted that Kavanaugh was “a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left wing politicians.”

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He questioned why Ford had not come forward earlier and berated the left for getting the FBI involved.

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Who is Brett Kavanaugh?

Kavanaugh is a conservative judge who is Trump’s pick to fill the vacant spot on the bench of the country’s already right-leaning Supreme Court.

He has held previous roles as a legal advisor to former president George W. Bush and a participant in a special counsel probe that led to the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton.

Trump has said no one is more qualified for a Supreme Court position than Kavanaugh.

But critics argue that if the 53-year-old assumes the life-long role, he poses a threat to abortion rights, LGBTQI rights, access to healthcare, and gun control.

What is the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag?

It’s exactly what it says it is: Women and men sharing the reasons they did not report their abusers.

It makes for harrowing reading. Many wrote of their feelings of shame or helplessness. Others wrote that they did report, but were not believed or were traumatised by the process they were put through by the justice system.

Celebrities also shared their stories. Alyssa Milano, one of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements fiercest campaigners, wrote a first-person piece for Vox.

“It took me years after my assault to voice the experience to my closest friends. It took me three decades to tell my parents that the assault had even happened. I never filed a police report. I never told officials. I never tried to find justice for my pain because justice was never an option,” she wrote.

“For me, speaking up meant reliving one of the worst moments of my life. It meant recognising my attacker’s existence when I wanted nothing more than to forget that he was allowed to walk on this Earth at all.”

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She wrote of many reasons why victims don’t come forward, including that they know their stories are rarely taken seriously or believed.

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What happens now?

The hashtag includes strong critiques on how the justice systems, as well as society as a whole, treats victims of sexual assault.

Victims are often treated like the perpetrators. They’re interrogated about what they were doing, what they were wearing, how much they’d had to drink. Their reputations are smeared.

#MeToo sparked rapid progress across many industries and cultures around the world. A list of high-profile people now stand accused of sexual assault and harassment – some, like former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser – have gone to prison.

Last year Time Magazine named the silence breakers its ‘People of the Year’.

We will have to wait to see if #WhyIDidntReport has an equally strong effect – and if it affects the outcome of Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Ford has agreed to testify next Thursday (US time) before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Kavanaugh’s nomination.

It’s undoubtedly brave. Ford has spent decades trying to forget the incident, but it’s now out there for the world to hear. She has received death threats since coming forward.

She will face great scepticism and every word she says will be scrutinised.

One of the Republican members of the judiciary committee who will question her, Lindsey Graham, told Fox News Sunday he intends to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination and did not expect Ford’s testimony to change his mind.

“What am I supposed to do? Go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?” he said. “Unless there’s something more, no I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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