My 20-year-old son and his girlfriend were mugged by three men at gunpoint, in a public park at 9:45pm on a Tuesday. One had a gun in my son’s side and the other held a gun to his girlfriend’s head. They told them to “fucking hurry up or I will shoot you.” The men physically searched their bodies, running their hands across my son’s chest, back, and into his pockets. Their bags, phones, wallets, keys, ID’s and an expensive camera were all stolen. They were the third in a string of five robberies by the same men that night. My son agreed to press charges if the men were caught.
I am a Nurse Midwife with more than twenty years of experience caring for thousands of women, delivering their babies and providing healthcare across their lifespan.
Almost daily in the clinic, I hear these women’s stories of abuse, rape, molestation or sexual assault occurring at some point in their lives.
Outside of work, I listened to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recount an incident that had occurred years ago, when she was a teenager. She was led to a room by two boys at a party where one turned up the stereo to hide her cries for help while the other, who Ford alleges is Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, held her down and tried to remove her clothes. She did not report the crime at that time.
As Americans, we tell ourselves that all victims will have their stories heard and believed. The sad truth is, however, far too often we judge a victim’s credibility based on the crime.
Nobody questioned my son or his girlfriend about being in the park after dark. Yet people have asked Dr. Ford why she was at a party. Nobody wondered what my son and his girlfriend were wearing or if they had been drinking. Nobody asked what they were doing just before the mugging.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ford has been questioned about her “behavior.”
Nobody asked my son and his girlfriend why they had expensive phones and a camera with them if they didn’t want them stolen. Nobody asked if they had been mugged before. Every single person believed his story of being mugged. No questions asked. And he was never described as the victim of an “alleged mugging,” but always as the credible victim who had been mugged.
Nobody told my son that he must report the incident to be believed. Instead friends and family said it was up to him and if it was too hard, then it was okay to not press charges.
But many people have said that Dr. Ford should have reported her “alleged assault” years ago if she was to be believed. “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago,” President Trump recently commented to Sean Hannity.
Others resignedly have said that Ford’s story wasn’t worth reporting as it would cause her more harm than good and nothing would happen to the “alleged perpetrator.”
What if my son had decided not to report the mugging at the time, being too scared to do so? What if he shared his experience much later with a therapist because it was still haunting him and he felt unable to go into certain places after dark? What if hearing the words “Hurry Up” reminded him every time of what happened that night? What if he decided one year or ten years or even thirty-six years later to talk about it? Would you believe his story?
Would you say it never happened if he never told anyone? Would you think he was out to “get those men” all of those years later? Would you question his recollection of the details of that night? Do you think the three men would remember my son and his girlfriend, if they were asked after thirty-six years or even ten?
Would my son’s story not be true if the criminals could not recount the crime?
He went to court as he was subpoenaed to do. In the weeks leading up to the trial, my son’s anxiety and questioning of his decision to press charges grew overwhelming at times. At many times he regretted agreeing to be a witness for the state. The thought of sitting and facing someone who had threatened his life with guns pressed into his flesh, of recalling and telling this story to different strangers repeatedly made him feel physically ill.
For all of this, the defendant, a juvenile received a total of two years of probation and no jail time for five armed robberies. At that moment, my son vowed that he would not return for the second trial of the adult, unwilling to put himself through it all again. With that decision my son received only empathy and understanding from family, friends, and even the prosecutor when he declared he would not be a witness again.
In total there were fifteen victims the night of my son’s mugging. Does the fact that there were others sharing the same story from that night make it true? Is that what makes my son’s recounting of his story more convincing? When I told my friends and colleagues I rarely mentioned the robbery string until well into the discussion and it always added drama to the story but did not appear to enhance the credibility.
Why does Dr. Ford need additional women to come forward for her to be trusted? Why do several women need to be raped by the same person to gain credence?
Can only mass victims recounting what happened many years ago make a plausible history?
Out of those fifteen victims, only my son, his girlfriend, and one other man came forward. Three out of fifteen. Everyone said it must be too hard for the victims of such a crime to come forward instead of questioning why they did not. They believed the other victims might be too scared, just like my son now was. Everyone supported him from the time he disclosed, and nobody question his decision to stop sharing his story.
Why can’t we say and do the same for Dr. Ford? Why can’t we say and do the same for all victims of sexual assault?
Dr. Karen DeCocker is a Certified Nurse Midwife and is an assistant professor at Rush University and is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.