The United States Senate confirmed recently the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. It was an ugly, divisive fight that damaged almost everyone involved.
Having learned from the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill drama 30 years ago, politicians-especially Republicans-were a lot more careful about what they said about Justice Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Ford. Even President Trump showed restraint for a while and called Dr. Ford a credible witness.
Of course, later on, he made fun of her at a political rally in Mississippi (though his Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee, denied what everyone with a television could see that he had done; she said that all the President was doing was “stating facts”-really?) and bemoaned how unfairly it was that men accused of sexual misconduct were no longer assumed innocent until proven guilty. Of course, that principle is one that both he and his supporters seem to forget at every rally where they say of Hillary Clinton-who has never been charged of a crime-“Lock her up!” Innocent until proven guilty?
That is not to say that the Democrats had completely clean hands, either. It seems to me that they could have handled the allegations made by Dr. Ford in a way that could have made them look less partisan. The timing of when the allegations came out looked a little suspect. The whole incident showed America at its partisan worst; the old I-shall-defend-and-excuse-my-candidate-no-matter-what-they-do-and-vilify-your-candidate-no-matter-what-they-do.
But underneath it all are two people-Justice Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford-whose lives have been changed in some ways forever. One of them told the truth. One of them did not. Who to believe?
I do not have a definitive answer to that question. Aside from the two parties involved, I am not certain that anyone has a definitive, provable answer.
I wish that in 40 years as a Seventh-day Adventist Pastor and Administrator that I could say that I have never dealt with any kind of sexual assault or any improper sexual behavior with any of my church members or any denominational employees. But that would not be true.
What is true is that 99% of the members and employees of this church that I have dealt with in these past 40 years are decent people whom I believe have never done the things that Judge Kavanaugh was accused of doing. But the law of averages dictates that there are a few bad apples even in the Adventist barrel.
Here are a few things that I have learned in the last 40 years:
- Know What You Don’t Know: There were some amazingly ill-informed statements (and that is being charitable) that were made during the Justice Kavanaugh hearings. I heard one woman who supported Justice Kavanaugh saying something on CNN like, “What young man hasn’t done something like that?”
Are you SERIOUS? THAT is your defense? That if Dr. Ford was sexually assaulted, it is justified because everyone sexually assaults a woman, sometime???? That it was ok to mistreat a young girl because “Boys will be boys”. Absolutely mind-boggling.
As someone who has spoken with several women who were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, I can tell you unless you have been where they have been, you have NO idea what that is like. You have no idea how a person who has gone through that feels or why they did-or did not do-what they did or did not do. It may well be hard for you to understand how someone who is the victim of a shameful act, still can somehow feel ashamed. But until you have suffered through a terrible ordeal like that, you have simply NO idea-none. So, be careful what you say to or about someone when they say they were sexually assaulted.
Here is another classically ill-informed line-one used by the President. “If it really happened, why didn’t they report 35 years (or however long) ago?” Be very careful about saying that one.
In all of my years of dealing with sexual misconduct, I have never dealt with a case where the woman who was a victim did not come forward reluctantly. Not one. In fact, more often than not, the woman would not come forward at all. In essence, she would say to me, ”I’ll tell you this but I am not saying this before any kind of committee or in any kind of public forum.”
I do not know everyone who will read this blog (I hope a lot of people do). But here is what I know about virtually every one of you who will read this blog: You know someone who has been sexually assaulted. If you don’t know anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted, the odds are that it’s because you don’t know that you don’t know someone who has been sexually assaulted.
That’s because lots of victims suffer in silence-much the same as women who have miscarriages suffer in silence. It was only when my daughter had her miscarriage that I learned how absolutely devastating that experience can be, and, how many women have gone through it and most of their friends never knew.
I am in no way equating the two other than to say that for reasons that I know that I do not fully understand, in both situations, there is a great deal of suffering in silence.
Based on my experience these past 40 years, I can almost guarantee you that you know someone who was sexually assaulted-but who suffered silently, telling virtually no one. I remember as a young Pastor listening to an older member that I was visiting, tell me about a sexual assault that she had experienced at the hands of a respected person in the community 40 years earlier. I remember young women telling me of being raped by people they knew-people I knew. And some of those young women were never the same after being sexually violated; in fact, probably none of them were ever the same.
But as far as I knew, none of them took any action against their rapist or made any type of accusation. They chose to suffer in silence.
Why do women suffer in silence? The natural inclination is to think that anyone who is sexually assaulted is going to run to the police and take some kind of action. But think about it for a moment: If you are Dr. Ford and you came forward and if you are really telling the truth (remember, I said earlier that almost no one has a definitive answer as to whether Justice Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford is telling the truth), what she went through after coming forward had to make her feel violated all over again.
- Men Can-and Do, Get Falsely Accused. President Trump talks about how groups like MeToo make it a dangerous time to be a young man because accusations against politicians and powerful men for sexual assault are much more common than they used to be.
But statistics that I saw recently said that 2-10 per cent of women who make a sexual assault charge are lying. That means it is between 10 to 50 times more likely that the woman making the charge is telling the truth than she is lying.
Now, that is NO comfort at ALL to the 2-10 per cent of men who get lied on. I would imagine for the falsely accused man, the experience of being falsely accused is just as devastating as being sexually assaulted is for a woman. PLUS, the falsely accused man can go to jail, or go broke trying to defend himself.
But protecting the rights of the accused men and being sensitive to the plight of woman who say that they have been assaulted are not, should not and cannot be mutually exclusive. We can do both.
If people were not so blinded by politics, the situation involving Justice Kavanaugh/Dr. Ford could have been handled much differently. People could have said, “Boy, I feel for Dr. Ford. Her life has been torn apart for doing her civic duty (and people wonder why women who have been sexually don’t come forward)”.
“But-there is no hard proof, so I am going to give Justice Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt.” (Or not). In other words, it is possible to believe one, without bashing the other. Newsflash, President Trump: You can make Justice Kavanaugh a Supreme Court Justice without making fun of Dr. Ford. That is what statesmen-like leaders do. And once upon a time, that is what Presidents were expected to do.
I remember one of the two times that I thought that the woman that was making the accusation in a situation I was dealing with was lying. I still kind of think they were-but I still don’t know for sure. But here is what I do know: The person who I believed was innocent ended up being involved in an inappropriate behavior situation that I had to deal with some years later. And this time, he was unequivocally and provably guilty.
- Be Prepared. Years ago, when I was a young Pastor, we had an AYS program on AIDS. Not nearly as much was known about AIDS then and a lot of what people thought they knew was wrong (Know what you don’t know).
But here’s what people were pretty sure of back in the early 1980’s when AIDS first came unto prominence:
- It was a communicable disease, i.e., it could be passed from one person to another. That part was true-just not in all of the ways people thought. I remember recounting in a meeting back in the early 1980’s that one of my members had AIDS and when I went to see him in the hospital to visit him, I deliberately shook his hand-to let him know that I was not afraid of normal contact with him. You should have seen the people to whom I was telling that story, literally shrink away from me!
- If you contracted AIDS, you would die. As Magic Johnson has proven, not always.
But in the AYS program, the discussion was, “What would we do if one of our members contracted AIDS?” Well, it was a good thing the Lord led us to that discussion because shortly thereafter, one of our members was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. In those days, there were churches that had major splits because of members with AIDS who definitely still wanted to attend church and the terrified members who definitely did not want them to attend.
That did not happen at our church because the Lord had fixed it so that we had discussed what we would do in advance-and we stuck with that plan until that member passed away.
It might not be a terrible thing to ask the question in your church, “What would we do if one member of our church, accused another of sexual assault?”
I would suggest the following guidelines as a beginning:
First: Do not assume that you automatically know who is telling the truth and who is not.
Second: Also, only act on what you can prove. What you think you know and what you can prove often are not the same thing.
Third: If there is going to be some sort of investigation done, be sure and get someone from outside your church to do it.
Fourth-Remember that just because you have known someone for a long time does not mean that you know what a person is or is not capable of doing.
If you have known someone for a long time, the temptation may be to think “Brother X would never do that!” Remember I told you about the young lady who was raped by someone that both she and I knew? Tall, handsome fellow-great smile. Nice guy (I thought). I literally saw women swoon over him. But he turned out to be a rapist.
Know what you don’t know-and if there ever is an allegation of sexual impropriety in your church, address it sensitively and seek in prayer the wisdom of the One Who sees and knows all.
By Elder Dana Edmond