BY SUSAN ESTRICH
My mother told me not to tell anyone because no decent man would have me.
And that made me angry. Teenage feminist. Why should I be ashamed of what happened to me? Why is it just fine to tell people how you were mugged at the park but not that you were raped in your parking lot?
So I told people. And I found out. No one asks if you gave away your money. But they do ask if you were really raped. That is, really raped according to them.
I’ve never met a living, breathing woman who had a rape fantasy. I’ve never heard a woman say, “If only my boss would force me to have sex without my consent.”
I’ve met plenty of men with a rape fantasy, and many of them clearly serve in the Senate. They look back at what they have done, look at the young women they work with and try to figure out which one is vindictive and spiteful enough to complain. The “male rape fantasy,” I’ve always called it.
When I started teaching criminal law, I decided to teach rape. I created my own materials because there weren’t any in the casebooks. And I told my students what happened to me. I told them I would try to be fair but I couldn’t presume to be objective. I told them about the stigma of coming forward, and how that was one of the reasons that [male fantasies notwithstanding] rape was, and still is, the most underreported violent crime.
That’s when the death threats began. The student newspaper called me courageous. Someone who claimed to be my student called me threatening to rape me.
I played a survivor for my students, for the women, and men, who came to me and told their stories for the first time, crying in my arms. I told them there was nothing to be ashamed of, even if that’s how people made them feel. I told them about walking out of the alley. I told them that they would survive.
I did not pretend they would get over it. We called ourselves victims then.
I couldn’t help crying at the sight of the sea of women, many of them my daughter’s age, many of them as young as I was, wearing their “Survivor” T-shirts and being utterly and totally ignored.
My hat is off to the courageous women who have stood up in the “Me Too” effort. Things have changed. Companies come to me to help them do better, to find the problems and the right things, dig into the culture to fix things, and recommend sanctions and changes and put them in place. Prevention beats punishment, and training beats humiliation. My most satisfying cases are the ones you never read about, where the tinder gets cleared before a match is struck.
But at the end of the day, and when push comes to shove, it is hard not to cry. She was telling the truth; we know that. Even the president did. And they didn’t have the guts to say none of it mattered, that they really didn’t care, even though they clearly didn’t. So they sent him out there to fight like a caged tiger, a brilliant strategy that they crowed about later, showing off a man overflowing with anger and hate.
He could have owned it. He could have said he didn’t remember, admitted that when he was young he was stupid and apologized for any harm he had caused.
Instead, he screamed and yelled and lied. And they didn’t care about that either.
They didn’t care if he had sexually assaulted a 15-year-old, and they didn’t care if he lied through his angry teeth under oath.
I can believe it. I can believe Sen. Susan Collins sold us out, caring more about the threats from the White House than the cries of Maine survivors. I can believe that the senators who watched him identified with the entitled preppy who drank too much and couldn’t even remember what he’d done, just like we who are survivors identified with Christine Blasey Ford.
There is, of course, an important difference. The White House has power. The Republicans in the Senate have power. We victims/survivors must keep on fighting.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer