On Monday, September 24, Tarana Burke — the founder of the #MeToo movement — organized #BelieveSurvivors, a nationwide walkout to show support for survivors of sexual assault in the aftermath of recent allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from former schoolmates Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.
For too long, the cracks in our justice system — and society as a whole – have enabled the system to deny the words, stories and critiques of the feminine. These cracks have let the stories of survivors to slip away, lost in the scope of a very conditioned lens. This lens would have us believe that anyone who is not a cis white male is lesser and therefore subject to misuse, oppression and even death. This lens would have us believe that womxn who do not uphold respectability politics are not worthy of justice and by extension, are not victimized in the first place.
In America, this practice stretches back a long time. Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager, was raped and murdered in Queens, New York, on March 13, 1964, over an extended period of time. She was a victim who also faced this type of scrutiny. It was originally reported that Genovese’s rape and murder had 38 witnesses who watched from apartment windows and street corners. The New York Times reported that “(n)ot one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.” A narrative of apathy had formed around her murder.
But this reporting was later revealed to be inaccurate. One man who lived across the street had actually yelled at the assailant, him away before he later returned. Two people called the police. The attack began at 2:30 am, but it wasn’t until 7 am that police responded to question witnesses. Despite the brutality of her murder, the investigation that followed was centered more around Kitty’s character and the smearing of it — the length of her skirt, her sexuality, etc. The validity of her victimhood and the necessity for its retribution was overlooked. The story became that no one had cared.
Last Sunday, Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale student, came forward to declare that Brett Kavanaugh — Supreme Court nominee and poster child for America’s crumbling government — sexually assaulted her while they were at school together. The President has already taken to Twitter to attack her credibility, but other fellow students who knew both parties have been coming forward all week — including another former student, James Roche, who remembers hearing of the incident either that night or the day or two following and has carried it with him all these years.
In her account, Ramirez has been up front about her patchy memory and inebriation on the night Kavanaugh attacked her. According to the report, she sat with trauma experts and her memories for six days before confidently naming Kavanaugh as the person who thrust his penis into her face at a party. As Christine Blasey Ford has received death threats, and as Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders renewed the justice system’s history of smearing survivors, Ramirez has come forward regardless.
In this moment, I catch myself feeling hope that the wave of energy moving across the country, and far beyond these stolen shores, can carry us from #MeToo swiftly into #BelieveSurvivors. Systems are breaking, making room for the previously voiceless to take up space, speak their truths and demand not only that they be heard, but that justice is served, in however small a dose.
We are entering into a new age. We’ve endured three thus far — Stone, Bronze, and Iron. As more of our world transfers into zeros and ones, and mother nature rages against the damage we have caused, I am eager to see how far this resurgence of the feminine, paired with the questionably infinite power of the hashtag, will carry us.