To politicize bravery and shame

Sexual assault is something all college students are familiar with. It’s not a disconnected statistic we can brush off but rather something that we’re intimately aware of — we pass by that “1 in 5” sign on our way to class every morning.

For Xavier students, we learn about sexual assault even before stepping on campus through the Think About It! program, during Manresa when XSASA hands out free fridge magnets and then again when one of our friends comes knocking on our door at 3 a.m. asking for our help.

To students, it’s hard to deny the truth of sexual assault and even more difficult to accuse survivors of lying to us about such a traumatic issue. Yet in the case of allegations made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Ford, it becomes impossible to avoid the violent balancing act of choosing between “him or her.”

To believe her is an affront to the current political institutions. Both President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are pushing for the Kavanaugh nomination while claiming that the Democratic Party is using Dr. Ford’s allegation as a political tool. To believe her is to consider that perhaps our government is blind, either through ignorance or disregard, to an underlying culture in which predatory behavior is tolerated and rewarded.

But to believe him is to degrade the faith and trust sexual assault survivors place in us when they come to seek support. To believe him is to tell survivors that they will not be believed, and they shouldn’t speak out at all. If we choose to reject the allegations made by Dr. Ford, her memory will stand as a monument to survivors, warning them of the dangers that occur if they choose to speak out against their assailants.

This decision between “him or her” is a decision we are forced to make. Regardless of our familiarity with those involved, we shouldn’t let our biases misguide us. And if we are able to put a face to both the survivor and the assailant, it shouldn’t affect our attitudes toward the severity of the allegations. We cannot elevate our assumptions and opinions of the individuals involved to the same significance as the allegation — because we are not the victim.

To believe that we are in any position to doubt the victim is to act as judge, jury and executioner. When a survivor risks confronting their assailant, they risk judgement and insult. They risk not being believed. But they face that risk head on, and they look to the rest of society with the hope of seeing compassion and support.

That’s the trust that survivors rely upon. To deny them the opportunity to seek justice because we feel entitled to our opinions about the matter, especially because we most likely know little to nothing of the situation, is immoral.

To shame them for having the courage to speak out is a breach of trust that the American people cannot afford. Yet in the past few weeks we have witnessed our president, a supposed paragon of American virtue, provoke this toxic mindset among the American populace.

This behavior is recklessly incompatible with American virtue. To shame Dr. Ford for coming forward, and to accuse her of politicizing her experience, is to perilously shame all survivors of sexual assault.

I reject this. Instead, I choose to forgo my entitlement about such matters because I am not in a position to accurately judge such situations. The best I can do is to support those around me by choosing to believe in them.

By accepting that my opinion is meaningless in relation to the true gravity of such matters, I can enable myself to truly provide the compassion required of me.

John Vargas is a first-year English and philosophy double major. He is a guest writer for the Newswire from Riverside, Calif.