By Danielle Campoamor published
I don’t remember what month it was, or if was a weekday or the weekend. I have no idea where, exactly, his house was located. But I remember his heavy-handed cologne. I remember the forceful weight of his body. I remember saying no. I remember him crying when it was over, him begging me not to call the police. I remember grabbing my clothes and walking out his front door. And because of the now-multiple sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanuagh, I remember it all too vividly. Every single day.
After Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her at a high school party in 1982, a second woman came forward and alleged sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez claims the D.C. circuit court judge “exposed himself at a drunken party, thrust his penis on her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away” when they were both freshmen at Yale, according to The New Yorker. Kavanaugh denies both allegations, calling them “smear campaigns” and “last-minute allegations.”
At this point, the reaction to Ramirez’s allegations is predictable. Like Dr. Ford, defendants of Kavanaugh are wondering why she waited “so long” to come forward. She’s a liar. She’s an opportunist. She’s a pawn in a political, partisan scheme to keep Kavanaugh off the bench. Per White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec, the Trump administration is “standing firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that further testimony won’t change his mind about Kavanaugh, regardless of what Dr. Ford or any other woman says. In fact, Senate Republicans knew about Ramirez’s claims a week ago and, instead of investigating them, tried to speed up the confirmation process and confirm Kavanaugh before her story broke.
Like Dr. Ford, Ramirez was hesitant to come forward because she had been drinking, because the alleged incident occurred so long ago, and because she knew her life would be upended. And, like Dr. Ford, she’s not alone. From women sharing their own stories via viral hashtags like #WhyIDidntReport, to coordinated rallies and a national walkouts planned for today in solidarity of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims, and all victims of sexual assault, this Supreme Court nominee has arguably impacted every single one of the one in six women who will be a victim of rape or attempted rape sometime in her life.
Survivors of sexual assault are being forced to relive their trauma with every unrelenting news cycle, once again ripping open the scars of the past to remind defenders of Kavanaugh—including the president of the United States—that there are myriad reasons why victims don’t come forward. Why we keep our pain hidden. Why we learn to find solace in the silent existence of our stories.
I never talked about the first time I was sexually assaulted until Dr. Ford came forward. Before her story, I only discussed my second sexual assault—the one I reported. I was comfortable sharing that story because I “did everything right,” including filing a police report and enduring a rape kit and having my body parts photographed by a forensic photographer. I could talk about the police questioning my wardrobe and my sexual history and how much I had to drink, and describe the pain of having to relive my trauma over and over again so the detective could write his reports. Even when the district attorney decided there wasn’t enough evidence to try my case, I found comfort in the prevailing idea that I was a “legitimate victim” because I “did everything I could,” as soon as I could.
And all the while, I hid the assault that made me feel shame. The assault I refused to acknowledge out of intense embarrassment. The assault that made me feel as if I was, and always will be, to blame. I was, like Ramirez, a young woman in college. I knew my attacker—a friend-turned-man I was casually dating. We had engaged in consensual sex prior to the incident, so I didn’t fear spending one-on-one time with him in public or in private. But that all changed one seemingly innocuous night at his home, when he ignored my pleas and forced himself on me. Suddenly what I wanted no longer mattered. Suddenly I was no longer in control of my own body or when and how I wanted to have sex. Suddenly I wasn’t a date, or a friend, or a human being worthy of dignity and innate bodily autonomy. I was a victim.
I remember going back to my house in a daze, one roommate asking me what was wrong as I made my way to the bathroom. I don’t think I answered her. I remember throwing up before taking a long, hot shower. I remember telling myself there was no way I could say anything to anyone. I knew him. We had been dating. Who would believe me? My new boyfriend told me I shouldn’t say anything. I would ruin his life. It wasn’t that bad. I should just forget it and move on.
I buried my story deep inside myself, underneath the ache in my ribs and the warm, gut-rush of adrenaline I feel every time a man walks just a little too close behind me. And that’s where it remained, until Brett Kavanaugh emerged as an alleged serial abuser.
Stories from victims across the country have saturated social media as a result of the allegations levied against Kavanuagh. Some are similar to mine, many aren’t, but all have at least one thing in common: They're indicative of a systemic problem that has long-plagued this country; a problem that impacts victims of sexual assault for the rest of their lives; a problem that protects abusers and denigrates victims. Once again, women are bleeding themselves dry in an attempt to highlight just how prevalent—how common—sexual violence is. Even though we shouldn’t have to.
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Ninety-percent of rape victims are women, and young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. One in three rape victims will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sometime in their life. Two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported. And out of 1,000 reported rapes, 994 perpetrators will go free. These facts are not hard to find, yet the onus is still on us—the victims—to try and prove rape culture exists and men benefit from it, some ascending to the highest positions of power in the country because of it.
The ache under my ribs has now grown into a throbbing pain, one I cannot ignore or push out of my mind. It is ignited by every allegation this administration ignores; every woman who comes forward to share her story only to be called an opportunistic liar; every victim of sexual assault standing firmly in their truth to remind us all that we’re not alone and we deserve justice, no matter how long the abuse we endured occurred. My ribs can’t expand anymore to hold a secret very few people know, while women who are finally sharing theirs are chastised by the most powerful man on the planet.
Because we remember our abusers’ heavy-handed cologne. We remember the forceful weight of their bodies. We remember saying no. We remember our humanity being stripped from us in high school, in college, at work, by boyfriends, by husbands, by best friends, by strangers, and by Yale classmates who claim they don’t remember us.
They might not have marked us on their calendars, but their abuse has marked us for the rest of our lives.
We are Christine Blasey Ford.
We are Deborah Ramirez.
We are not alone.
And we will no longer be burdened by the abuse others have caused. Because we remember, and it’s time they remember, too.
Danielle Campoamor is an award-winning freelance writer covering mental health, reproductive justice, abortion access, maternal mental health, politics, and feminist issues. She has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, InStyle, Playboy, Teen Vogue, Glamour, The Daily Beast, and more.
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