Staff Editorial: We Must Listen to Survivors


Trigger Warning/Content Warning for readers: This staff editorial and the pages to which it links contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering for some people.

After weeks of controversy, a hearing and a brief FBI investigation, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court despite several sexual assault allegations against him. One of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault was Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., who testified in front of the U.S. Senate two weeks ago. Following her brave retelling of her traumatic experience, Kavanaugh was nevertheless confirmed. Many senators argued that Ford’s testimony was not credible enough to deny Kavanaugh the seat. This politically-motivated dismissal sends the wrong message to the public about sexual assault.

The editorial board acknowledges that this is an extremely frustrating and confusing time for Fordham’s students and staff, so we find it necessary to extend sympathy and support to survivors in our community. We believe you.

The process by which Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court justice was a disgrace to the American principle of due process. While the presumption of Kavanaugh’s innocence is an American value, the women who brought forth the allegations against him were treated unfairly by both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the general public. By confirming Kavanaugh after hearing the women’s testimonies, our government has set a precedent that the voices of women and survivors do not matter. It has also made it clear that it does not matter what one does in high school or college, so long as they possess the right sort of privilege. We, however, are college students. The idea and looming threat of a high school or college rape is still extremely fresh and relevant.

The ordeal that eventually resulted in Kavanaugh’s confirmation warrants a renewed conversation about sexual assault. We must address the respect with which we treat survivors. At least 94 percent of the time, allegations of sexual assault are true. We must not dismiss accusations of any level of severity as fake, fabricated or politically motivated. We owe it to each and every survivor.

In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing and confirmation which dominated news cycles for weeks, Fordham University made no statement and provided no reminder of the resources that are available for victims of sexual assault on campus. In fact, English Department Chair Jordan Stein sent an email to students and faculty in that department outlining the resources that students who “seek confidential counseling” for “sexual assault and abuse” have — and it’s worth noting that the list featured far more off-campus options than on-campus ones. Stein’s words prompt us to question why Fordham’s Campus Assault and Relationship Education program, Counseling and Psychological Services or any another proper authority had not done this earlier.

We must ensure that the institutions within our community are sensitive and supportive to survivors of sexual misconduct. The school administration must supply appropriate internal and external resources for victims. These resources should provide survivors with not only assistance, but also a true community of support, one that strives to foster a collegiate community that genuinely believes and supports survivors.

Sexual assault on college campuses has a long history of going unrecognized or unreported. Only 20 percent of female college students in the United States report their sexual assaults. Per Fordham’s 2016-17 Campus Climate Survey, the number of students that feel Fordham’s administration would take action if they reported an assault is less than 80 percent. It is unacceptable that more than 20 percent of our student body feel uncomfortable about coming forward about assault. This is a testament to how unfortunately prevalent the issue of sexual assault is on our campus. The resources provided on campus for victims of sexual assault must be better. Although Fordham’s CARE program is designed to provide victims of sexual assault with confidential medical and psychological resources and assist with incident reports, there still appears to be a disconnect between this program’s outreach and the well-being of survivors at Fordham.

The loss in this battle is not a political loss for Democrats or Republicans — rather, it is a discouraging blow to survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence. And, in general, it is a loss for marginalized groups consistently silenced by those in power. Especially to young adults fighting for justice, it is easy to grow desensitized and lose faith in the system as the survivors in our midst are invalidated. We must remember that we have a responsibility to show respect to survivors of harassment, abuse or any other atrocity. This is not a matter of politics. This is a matter of human compassion and decency.