USA, Gender, The World, Policy, Social Justice

Judges don’t believe sexual assault survivors. So what happens next?

To judges, the lives of survivors don't matter. Their attackers do.

In the days since a man in Alaska walked free after sexually assaulting a woman on the side of the road, the outrage concerning the treatment of sexual assault survivors in the United States is palpable. As Christine Blasey Ford’s admonition of Judge Brett Kavanaugh comes to the floor of the Judiciary Committee, an outcry has sounded across social media broadcasting that we #believesurvivors.

But what happens when judges don’t?

News outlets are swollen with reports of men walking away from heinous sexual assault convictions with no repercussions for their actions. The judges more often take the impact on the male defendant into consideration, claiming a sexual assault charge could ruin their life.

As if the victim’s life hasn’t fallen into enough desolation.

Justin Schneider, the man who kidnapped a woman in Alaska and masturbated on her while threatening to kill her, will not even need to register as a sex offender. This means that his crimes will not follow him as he moves on with his life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the woman he attacked.

The trial of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who pleaded guilty to raping an unconscious woman near a dumpster in 2016, became the flashpoint for the discussion about judges who refuse to dole out punishment for sexual abusers.

The outrage at Turner’s 6-month punishment mobilized voters, who successfully ousted Judge Aaron Perksy from his post two years later.

Despite threats coming from the citizens of the country, who made their interest known loud and clear through votes and rally cries, the judges of this nation still do not seem to understand the importance of believing survivors of sexual assault.

These survivors are now taking to social media to shed light on the various reasons why they didn’t report their assaults. In the brave stories of their darkest hours, they validate the delay behind Professor Ford’s reluctance to speak out against Judge Kavanaugh until recently – when it became clear that his character could impact the course of the country.

The sagas behind #WhyIDidntReport show survivors talking about men who made them too scared to report their assault. Or worse, when they did report, the justice system turned a deaf ear by denying the authenticity of the accusations.

Perhaps the culture of undermining the testimony of survivors comes from a history of doing so, that started over 27 years ago when Anita Hill stood in the face of another Supreme Court Nominee: Judge Clarence Thomas.

Hill spoke out about the sexual harassment she endured as Judge Thomas’ assistant when he worked for the Department of Education. The trial was lead by the Senate Judiciary Committee, who even required Hill to explain the explicit conversations and the sexual pressure Thomas put on her during their time in D.C.

A Democratic-led Senate confirmed Thomas by a very narrow margin, despite Hill’s testimony.

Many people fear that, despite what history has taught us, Ford may suffer the same fate as Hill. That she will have to relive that terrifying night in her life, only to have the country look the other way and decide to confirm a man who ruined her life for his own selfish desires.

If judges do not effectively lay down severe punishments for sexual assaults, perpetrators will never stop. Sexual assault needs to be treated as the heinous crime it is, and not seen as a misunderstanding in the terms of consent.

Voters are now beginning to hold the judges accountable for their rulings in these trials. Already, plans are being made to oust Judge Michael Corey, who is responsible for Justin Schneider being free of all charges mentioned earlier.

The justice system has to start holding men accountable for their actions. In order to force the justice system to change, we have to vote for the change. And although we do not vote for the highest court in the country, we can let them know that we hold them accountable, too.