Angela, a friend I have known for many years, called last week to tell me her story. She was raped when she was 14 years old.
“He was a popular boy. No, actually, he was 18, not a boy. He was a senior on our hometown high school football team. He was from a respected family. He was one of my brothers’ close friends. I was 14 years old. He was just supposed to give me a ride home.”
She never said a word to anyone. She did not report it to the police. She did not call the FBI. She lived in the real world.
“I lived in a small, rural town that lived for Friday night high school sports, and high school sports heroes. I would have been shamed, blamed, not believed, diminished, insulted, my reputation ruined.
“I would have risked social relationships. I would have risked familial relationships. I would have risked those all too important college recommendation letters from the powers that be in every high school.
“Yes. I kept my mouth shut. I said nothing.”
Sexual assault and learning to listen to victims has been an area of societal growth over the past years, but this week demonstrated how far we have yet to go. I grew up in Boston, where rumors of sexual abuse of boys within the Boston Archdiocese were flatly denied for years before the dam finally broke. As men, those boys could offer little ‘corroborating evidence’ of the crimes against them. At the end of the day, the Church — and society at large — was forced to recognize that the lack of such ‘evidence’ did not mean that the crimes were not real.
Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee chose from the very beginning to evade acknowledging this. And, make no mistake, it was a choice; denying the validity of Christine Blasey Ford’s story was a matter of political expediency. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham demonstrated the urgency of the political moment when he became a vocal leader of those Senators who prefer to dismiss Dr. Blasey Ford’s story, and chose to set aside his own searing experience as a military prosecutor of rape cases while in the Air Force
“I tried rape cases that still bother me,” Graham wrote in 2016, “including the prosecution of several GIs who had gang raped a young German girl. She was just destroyed by it. I learned how much unexpected courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailants. Trying to get a scared, confused, little kid or a young woman who feels the best part of her life is over to recall a memory that their every psychological impulse is trying to suppress is not something you forget. It has stayed with me ever since.”
Like that German girl, Angela feared the impact of confronting her assailant. She did not say anything, determined not to let her rapist ruin her life.
“I would have been the victim. It would have been my fault. All of the boys would have rejected me. The teachers would have been uncomfortable around me. The ones who were also sports coaches would have been angry, and my lifeline to something bigger than my little hometown would have slipped away. No, I kept my mouth shut because speaking as a victim would have only driven me deeper into the victim experience.”
Instead, as a 14 year-old girl, alone with the pain of the rape she had just endured, she steadied her courage and fought to keep her focus on her future.
“Had I spoken out at that point in time, it was clear to me that my lifeline to something bigger and better would have been cut. I needed to stay on my feet. I needed those references and teacher recommendations if I was going to make it out of that small town. And I did make it out and, with a lot of hard work, graduated from Princeton, then Harvard Business School and have had a long career now in tech and entrepreneurship.
“But back then, no, I did not say a word. When I was 14, the price was too high. But it was all wrong.”
Angela only told her story this week for the same reason that so many other women have come forward to tell their stories. Because decades of silence do not mean that something did not happen. Because lack of ‘corroborating evidence’ does not mean that a crime did not occur.
“I knew that if he was suddenly nominated for a lifetime appointment to the pinnacle of justice in our oh-so-wounded democracy, yes, I would come forward now. Any person who lacks an innate respect for those more vulnerable in their midst belongs not on the Supreme Court.”
Angela told her story because of the deep pain she is experiencing in the wake of the Kavanaugh debate. She has come a long way, a successful entrepreneur, with a beautiful family. Yet here we are in 2018 — almost four decades after that otherwise ordinary afternoon when she stepped out of that car, all alone — and she finds that her children are subject to a national spectacle that tells them, “yet once again, to keep their mouths shut if they are harmed.”
Years later, Angela did tell her mother. But almost four decades have passed and she never told her brothers about their friend, who raped her. He moved on with his life, seemingly oblivious to the impact that afternoon in a car had on her. “He sent me a friend request on Facebook. Really?”
With the week’s respite they have been granted, each Senator should step back and take a lesson from the experiences of the Catholic Church. The desire to ignore the reality of sex crimes in one’s midst is powerful; but the lies and cover-ups will only deepen the personal and political consequences for each of them, for the Senate, and for the Court — just as it did for the Boston Archdiocese.
As hard as it may be for those in the midst of the battle to believe, this is not just about politics. It is about the secret pain carried silently for decades by millions of women –young girls like Angela and the German girl that Lindsey Graham represented years ago — who were told by society “to keep their mouths shut.” And it is about choosing to stop perpetuating a society that forces victims to remain silent as a matter of self-preservation.
 Angela worked with me on the writing of this blog. Her name and some identifying details were changed at her request.
Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. He is working on a book, with a working title of “FedExit! To Save Our Democracy, It’s Time to Let Alabama Be Alabama and Set California Free.”