With apologies to William Shakespeare, the question of the week has been whether a woman should speak up about past sexual abuse.
Lined up on either side are the shrill voices one hears today when any controversial subject is brought up. One is confronted with the emotion surrounding an issue - should a woman be believed without any question? - that stems from centuries of not being believed if we said the sky is blue unless a man backed us up.
Dare to advance the notion that one must, in the United States, honor Due Process and the risk of being accused of supporting a deviant or a rapist is very real. Yet, if we pause, we can remember that a history of automatically believing an allegation has led to some real tragedy in this country. Of course, it has mostly involved men of color losing their freedom at best, their lives at worst, so we dare not look too closely at what happens if Due Process if tossed to the winds in favor of a rush to judgement.
Like so many women, I am a survivor of criminal sexual assault. Like so many women, I have never received justice from our judicial system. Unlike many people I hear today, I am not ready to believe every person who declares themselves a victim of a crime. I know that people lie, that people misidentify perpetrators, that even women who have been raped and can tell you exactly what the man sounded like and smelled like have testified with a certainty on the witness stand only to have the man they helped send to prison exonerated by DNA evidence 10, 20, 30 years later.
Again, most of those men (not all) were men of color....so let's not look too closely at that, it might make us uncomfortable.
It is difficult to determine someone's guilt when the crime is fresh. It is even more difficult to determine it if the crime is more than 30 years old unless there is scientific evidence to link a suspect to the victim. Without that evidence, it truly does become a 'victim says-alleged criminal says' situation and we are left with the unwelcome task of trying to decide who to believe.
As a Catholic in today's world, this is very real to me. In light of the priest abuse scandal and the allegations against high ranking men at The Vatican, knowing who and what to believe is a minefield. I don't want to ruin someone's life by jumping on a bandwagon. Neither do I want to let a perpetrator against young men, children and The Holy Spirit walk around wearing a clerical collar.
As an American, it is also very real to me. The idea that a serial rapist could end up on the US Supreme Court is abhorrent; however, the alternative scenario of ruining a man's reputation, his life's work and the well being of his family is equally abhorrent and having to make a choice between the two can be daunting.
Who to believe?
What to do?
Despite being told this past week (by a Liberal Man and Defender of Women, no less) that because I am a Catholic, I am not allowed to think (which, I'm sure, surprises the heck out of Madame Curie and Margherita Guarducci), I have thought a lot about this issue. I have listened to talking heads, experts, news casts and (finally) to the two people involved. I have read articles and OpEd pieces. I have, mostly, avoided the FaceBook Memes and the LOUD declarations by the Farthies on both sides of the political spectrum because they make me tired and they are devoid of reason (which is probably why they make me tired). I have prayed. I have sat quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel and asked for guidance.
No blinding light. No writing in the sky.
Instead, I have felt a quiet and still voice deep inside, reminding me that all in this world is fleeting. I have been reminded that this is not really my home, and while I have a duty to be a good steward of creation and treat all creatures with the dignity and respect bestowed upon them by the Creator, I cannot every expect to find justice or peace here.
I don't know what happened 36 years ago. I don't think any of us will ever know. I think, and I may be wrong, that we have done the best we can to determine what happened and we have failed. People have been given the right to speak and it didn't really help us. The people who believed before the testimony still believe. The people who feel she is lying still believe she is a liar.
Today, I go forward in the hope that another example of how divided and ugly our world has become has not escaped notice. My hope is that people like me will continue to pray, continue to go to God with our concerns and our needs and ask Him for guidance. My hope is that all those who have been affected by crime - whether as a victim who did not receive justice or as a person falsely accused - will find healing and strength to live good, solid and productive lives through forgiveness.
And, finally, I hope that every woman, child and man who has had someone try to strip them of their dignity by forcing them to perform sexual acts will know that that perpetrator failed. No matter what - they are Human Beings.
And they are loved.