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The Movement Doesn't End Here - Supporting Survivors in the Aftermath of the Kavanaugh Appointment

Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention, Education, and Response
October 16, 2018 Karla Aguilar University of California-Riverside

As we watched Dr. Ford sit across several judiciary committee members and describe intimate details of her assault that took place several years ago, we can’t help but think of the impact these hearings have had on survivors across our campuses. Questions that were asked regarding Dr. Ford’s decision to come forward years later and why she couldn't recall particular details (as to insinuate she purposely left things out) aligned deeply with strategies used to undermine a survivor’s credibility, intention and reasoning for breaking their silence and deciding to come forward. What messages do we take away from these hearings ― do we believe that survivors who come forward years after experiencing violence are less credible? Are survivors at fault for drinking hours before their assaults with people they considered close friends? Do we accept a culture that believes aggressively interrogating and criticizing survivors for a crime that was committed against them is appropriate? The answer is simple — no. We refuse to accept patriarchal victim-blaming social norms that perpetuate violence and instead we choose to believe survivors. The work of shifting campus cultures requires us to refuse claims that survivors are less credible for deciding to stay silent and instead acknowledge the fears, threats and systemic barriers that silence those who are not able to come forward and those in marginalized communities who face even more barriers. Similar to Anita Hill, standing in front of the judiciary committee in 1991, Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony has served once again as a reminder that our work on campus is still as important as ever. Campus leaders and programs must continue to empower survivors in their journeys to finding justice, validation and healing and leading culture change efforts to prevent violence.

As we watched this process unfold, what we also know is this: Our campuses are hurting. The manner in which the Senate hearing was allowed to progress has left our students re-traumatized, angry, and overflowing with feelings of betrayal. Students who have dedicated their entire college careers to being change agents on their campuses find themselves bombarded by peers in need of disclosing, too afraid to engage in reporting processes they fear will mirror what they see on national television. The message from our elected officials is clear: We do not believe you. Despite these erroneous messages however, we stand firm in our support of survivors. From Palo Alto, to Washington, DC and everywhere between: We hear you, we believe you, and we stand beside you.

It’s not a coincidence that on the day of Dr. Ford’s testimony, that Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reported a 201% increase in crisis calls. Sexual assault intervention and advocacy providers across campuses have equally felt the weight of these hearings, replicated in the despondent spirit of our campuses and in the increase of services requested by our students. Survivors have been forced to relive not only their trauma, but the instances in which they were blamed, dehumanized, and not believed.

The responsibility falls on campus leadership to instill our communities with alternative messages of hope, belief, and the courageous commitment to support those who come forward, as well as those who do not feel safe to do so. We ask you to take this moment in history to engage in self-reflection:

  • How is your campus leadership working to alleviate the harm our students are watching play out before them on national television?
  • What can you and your campus leadership do to create a culture that pushes back against the daily manifestations of rape culture happening around us?
  • Are you providing the levels of support needed to comprehensively prevent sexual violence, intervene when needed, and support those who have experienced harm?
  • What can your campus honestly, do better?

There are student support staff, prevention educators and campus advocates on your campuses right now who have worked extra hours to support the innumerable students coming forward who have experienced retraumatization during these last few weeks, or who have decided that they, too, are ready to come forward to disclose their own experiences. These student affairs heroes have held listening circles to provide safe spaces for students to discuss their feelings, they held Senate hearing watch sessions and helped navigate debrief discussions afterward. They have supported student protests across the country during these past few weeks. If you are one of those people, thank you. If you supervise one or more of those people, thank them. If you are a senior student affairs officer on campus, check in on those who are doing this work to support your campus and your students. Make sure they have what they need to take care of themselves. This has been a difficult few weeks for our country, our campuses and our students. It’s on all of us to keep our students safe, to let them know we believe them when they come forward and that we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have put in extra time and effort to support our students during times like these.

Campus advocacy spaces are chronically under-resourced. To truly actualize our commitment to student development and success, we must ensure that those caring for survivors have the staffing and resources necessary to provide comprehensive care. It is not enough to say that we stand for survivors. We must match our words with action.