believe women: a lament / by Sarah Schwartz

‘Why'd you wait so long?’

Here's a big part of why: Because for years I watched family and friends eviscerate sexual assault victims who spoke up against a candidate, team, pastor, ministry or local friend they liked, and I got the message loud and clear.

-Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward and accuse former USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar of sexual abuse

***

Shortly after the 2016 election, I wrote of the whiplash of being a young woman in conservative evangelicalism—the mind game that is being told that my sexual “purity” is to be protected at all costs, and that my body is acceptable sacrifice on the altar of political power.

When the tape of now President Donald Trump boasting of “grabbing women the pussy” leaked in late 2016, I remember thinking, surely this is the end to all reasonable consideration of this man for public office. This is bigger than partisan politics. The American public will not tolerate sexually predatory behavior from a presidential candidate. Especially those who claim Jesus as Lord!

This week, with the accusations that have come forward regarding supreme court justice nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I will not be so foolish—and I grieve my naïveté. I miss believing that most people find women to be human, and their abuse, intolerable.

But I am older now. To old to confuse the pageantry of “family values” with “valuing the safety and dignity of women” ever again.

I want to live in a world where, when a woman summons the courage to come forward and say “this horrific thing happened to me” we value her enough to at least make space to listen without immediately concluding that she is a vicious shrew, out to ruin the lives of unsuspecting men for shits and giggles. But that is not the world, yet.

***

When we say believe women, what we mean is don’t reflexively disbelieve women, or immediately assume women are lying. The bar could not be set any lower for human decency.

Do false allegations happen? Yes. But according to the best available data, only 2%-8% of all sexual assault allegations are found to be false—you know, the same percentage as other felonies. Women are no more likely to lie about being assaulted than someone who has their car stolen or home burglarized.

Because women are not out to get you.

The only thing we are out to do is survive, whether it be through car keys clenched between knuckles as we navigate dimly lit parking structures, or by watching every motion of the bartender as he makes our drink, or teaching our baby daughters the anatomically correct terms for their body so they can tell us, should they need to tell us.

And every now and again, we are out to tell the truth—even though we know our character will be maligned, our families upended, and the most vulnerable pieces of ourselves made available for public fodder. (Which is why, while 1-3 women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, less than half come forward.)

Because every time a woman tells the truth about her life, she is demanding better for the lives of the women who will follow.

In the words of Oscar Romero, she is a prophet of a future not her own.

***

You will know when the time comes.

Your throat, an indignant fist, will forget its grip.

The stories will flood finally from your mouth.

Whoever told you not to tell will die to you.

Whoever told you that no one would believe you,

that you deserved it, that you would pay,

will be crushed under the weight of it,

suffocated under the rush of it, this hard

thing unleashed and furious and not yet

the shape of the truth, but it’s wild mother.

You, too, will be pummeled by the telling,

the surrendering to the righting of the world.

An exposing. A skinning. Take exquisite care.

The voice, unafraid, changes everything…

You will be more vulnerable now than ever,

sensitive to the edges, but able, at last, to spend

it, this new currency, this crackling power,

just at the tip of your

-Mindy Nettifee, Tender