Students tied purple ribbons to the gates of Senate House before a discussion earlier this yearFelix Peckham

While watching Dr Christine Blasey Ford throughout Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, I felt a constant conflictual desire to both fight for Dr Ford, for myself, for women recovering from trauma everywhere, but also to run away and hide from all of it.

The ‘rationalistic discourse’ surrounding the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court was intensely difficult. When having conversations about it, I felt horribly exposed to people’s ‘impartiality’. It was enraging to have to sit in a kitchen, or a pub, or a college JCR and ‘debate’ whether or not Kavanaugh was guilty, why Dr Ford has only now come forward, whether someone’s sexual behaviour discredited their professional qualification. My anger came from this feeling that in order to justify myself, I too had to expose myself, to recount some form of injustice at the hands of men in order to explain to people, often men, just how trauma – particularly sexual assault – haunts a person.

I cannot help but see such misogyny echoed in movements here in Cambridge

Asking victims to publicly recount explicit details of their trauma in order to bring down the powerful men who have harmed them is a recurring theme in #MeToo. It exposes them not only to the non-believers, those who imply or outright state that ‘she probably deserved it’ but also to the personal and emotional burden of reliving their worst experiences on a public platform. I had no desire, as I have little desire now writing this article, to reveal details of my assault just so that other people can recognise and legitimise the emotional impact it has on victims, that explain why we may be unwilling to come forwards, why we would prefer to focus on our own personal recovery. I felt my own choices not to come forward and engage in disciplinary action was being implicitly put on trial.

Instinctually, asking women to take on this burden, from private conversations to a global stage, feels wrong. Unfortunately, I cannot help but see such misogyny echoed in movements here in Cambridge. Breaking the Silence is an incredible force for change within the university, but the implication behind ‘breaking the silence’, is, again, that if silence is ever to be broken then it requires victims to come forward – regardless of gender. Admittedly the anonymous reporting system does enable victims who feel they are not able to come forward publicly to feel like they are contributing to a change, but that does not account for the significant amount of trauma that victims are required to relive just by recounting the incidents.

I object to a climate in which there is a burden on victims – and victims alone – to fight their oppressors

The WomCam campaign to lower the burden of proof in the university’s disciplinary procedure does go some way to alleviating pressure upon victims to constantly have to prove themselves. But if conversation surrounding high-profile cases of victims speaking out continue to blame or question victims, the culture that keeps them silent will not be changed. We live in a society where, still, in spite of all of the work done by feminists, the underwear a teenager wears can be utilised against her in a court case. Victims who do speak out on a public platform are, quite frankly, stunningly brave. Nevertheless, I object to a climate in which there is a burden on victims – and victims alone – to fight their oppressors, particularly in a legal system where it is disproportionately hard to prove anything.

#MeToo and the subsequent beginnings of a revolution where women have said ‘no more’ to rampant cultures of harassment and assault that dominate workplaces across the world is no less than incredible. The empowerment of victims and potential victims to finally say no to sexual aggression is hugely important for me personally. How many women can recall a time when, out of fear of confrontation, they have put up with someone, often a man, making them uncomfortable?

My anger came from this feeling that I too had to expose myself, just to explain how trauma haunts a person

Yet seeing Dr Ford on the verge of tears, seeing men speak against lowering the burden of proof in the university’s disciplinary procedure, I can’t help but feel that #MeToo inevitably falls short. Like many anti-oppression movements over time, the burden of reliving trauma in order to alter the status quo remains firmly on the victims. When the fight is against sexual assault, what it requires of victims is nothing less than a public exposure of likely the worst thing to ever happen to them.


Mountain View

Harassment and sexual misconduct on campus are everyone’s problem

#MeToo can sometimes feel like a cautionary tale: here is a woman who has been broken, forced to tell the world about this brokenness, only for ‘the world’ to completely disregard the emotional resilience it took for Dr Ford to convey that brokenness. We must all work to make sure no more women suffer like her. As a movement, #MeToo is a powerful force for good, but it is not enough; it does very little to alleviate the victims suffering. Where the assaulted cannot become un-assaulted through confession and revelation, we as a society must find ways to better accommodate the hurt of victims in institutional spaces.

That begins by encouraging allies to speak up, to say ‘I believe you’ to their friends, colleagues, strangers. It begins by those who can fight for what is right speaking up and leading where survivors cannot. Until we alter the culture of disbelief that can feel all pervasive to survivors, institutional abuse will continue.

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