Published 3:54 PM EDT Oct 8, 2018
If belief were based on feeling, then Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony would have won me over.
I was unable to stop the tears as Ford described the days following the alleged assault by stating she had convinced herself that, because she wasn’t raped, she “should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.”
Whether or not she is telling the truth about these allegations, the feelings that she identified are very real for survivors of sexual assault. I know this, because I am one.
Ford’s testimony transported me back to when I was a frightened 16-year-old girl, alone in the aftermath, just trying to make sense of the nightmare I’d endured.
The confusion she so perfectly described was the confusion I felt.
I wondered how to categorize what had just happened, and who to tell or if I should tell at all. I wondered who would believe the word of a teenager (who had admittedly been drinking at a party) against the word of an older man — a man I’d never even spoken to, although I’d often seen him around, as he supplied the alcohol for our foolish underage parties.
Ultimately, I justified it the way Ford described — “just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.”
My assault, my regret
I now look back at this time in my life with such empathy for that teenage girl I used to be, and — if I’m honest — with regret. I wish I had come forward to seek justice. I wish that this man who assaulted me while I slept and continued to assault me long after I had awakened would have had to face consequences of some kind.
I’ve often shouldered guilt for my silence, wondering how many other girls he might have abused after me.
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People have lots of reasons not to report sexual assault: fear of a broken system, social stigma, or not wanting to relive the trauma in a painfully public way. In my mind, I balanced these fears with the knowledge that each passing day my story became less credible, as any evidence that would have existed would soon disappear.
It is also difficult to make these judgments when you’re in shock and your mind is still reeling.
I get it.
But even though I regret not coming forward, I am thankful that I cannot today walk into a courtroom, name my attacker, and condemn a man for life because of what happened 14 years ago.
I say this, not because it wouldn’t be justified, and not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because I would not have a single shred of hard evidence to support my story.
I am a sexual assault survivor, and I don’t want you to just take my word for it.
There is nothing more terrifying than living in a world where unsubstantiated allegations are accepted as truth. Just ask someone in North Korea.
We are all innocent until proven guilty
There must be a standard, otherwise no one is safe from having their life destroyed by a wayward accusation. Due process is not an obstruction to justice, it is a foundation of the American rule of law and was meant to be a barrier to hasty judgment and conviction by public opinion.
The Kavanaugh controversy has turned the world upside down. Talking heads and Twitter mobs have already dubbed him “the attacker” despite having seen no proof that the events described by Ford even occurred.
This sets a terrifying precedent for the future, no matter which side of the political aisle you find yourself on, especially in an age where victimhood is currency and everyone is buying.
Ford made allegations that deserved to be investigated, and while she may have had the right to be heard, she does not have the right to be blindly believed.
It is true that survivors of sexual assault have stories to tell, and they all deserve to be heard. There is no rule book for how or when a story should be shared, or even if it must be shared at all. But if justice is the goal, there is a window of time in which the allegations need to be made through the proper legal channels.
Eyewitnesses grow forgetful, bruises heal, and eventually a case is reduced to being one word against another. It isn’t fair that there’s a timer on legally reporting sexual abuse, but it is realistic.
Evidence matters. Presumption of innocence matters. Due process matters.
These truths exist to protect us all, even though that sometimes might mean a guilty individual walks free.
Perhaps John Adams said it best: Once innocence is condemned, virtue itself is no security.
Kelsey Kurtinitis is a wife, millennial mom, Personhood Iowa Board Member, and activist. This column originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.