The number of front doors Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said she had installed when remodeling her home.
On the surface that detail might raise a few brows from home improvement enthusiasts, but the remark is a chilling part of her testimony accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her nearly three decades ago.
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Dr. Ford recounted her experience with Kavanaugh in as much detail as she could remember. Of those details she included the immediate sense of relief she felt as she escaped out the front door of the house where her alleged attack occurred. Standing on the street knowing that Kavanaugh and his accomplice, Mark Judge, were not chasing after her, she felt free for the first time.
The installation of a second front door in her current home is now a cathartic symbol that she too can escape if needed.
Every woman has their own second front door.
A pre-made exit plan ready to be executed at any time when the weight of all of this is too much. It’s innate and it’s primal.
For the one in five women who are survivors of sexual assault, Dr. Ford’s testimony was an all too familiar storyline. A storyline of one woman’s word against a man’s, but this time the whole world was watching and listening.
Of those watching and listening were journalists. Female journalists. Signing in and logging on for the day to do their job. Many of them having to relive their own personal tales of sexual assault, while the rest having to revel in the new daily ritual of watching their fellow sisters recount their trauma.
Tuning into the news has become a form of cardio, with many of us finding our heart rates elevated by the end of our routine. But what do we do when it’s our job to provide the news? What do we do when our job requires that we be tuned in?
No journalism class that taught the basics of writing and editing could have ever prepared us to report on the mass purge of men being held accountable for their actions, and yet here we are. But, how do we cope?
Staff writer for Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams went so far as to delete her own social media accounts in an attempt to cleanse all toxic commentary that was not vital to her role as a journalist.
“I know it’s not an option for everyone, but I reached a tipping point this year and got off social media,” she said. “I firmly believe in the power of the platform to elevate voices that otherwise don’t get heard, and to spur justice movements. But I also hit my limit of strangers saying disgusting, scary things to me and Twitter not doing anything when I reported it.”
There’s a reasonable frustration in wishing the truth would simply emerge in a perfectly sealed envelope, but that’s not the reality of sexual assault allegations. The reality is that it’s one person’s word against another, and the reality of that is why so many women remain victims not only to their abuser but to the legal system.
Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Of those cases, 64% are reported with approximately 2% being false accusations. This leaves journalists with countless stories to tell, but with the added burden of telling them from a place where they can only present both sides equally, when 98% of the time one of those sides is always telling the truth.
So, at what point do journalists get to insert humanity into these tales?
Audra Goforth, a journalist for AVL Today has used journalism to cope with her own sexual assault in an attempt to change the narrative for survivors.
“As a female journalist, covering today’s media such as the Ford and Kavanaugh hearing is honestly tough. For one, I have my own bias for being a victim of sexual assault — I was raped my freshman year of college and I never spoke up about it until much later,” she said. “During my time at college, I was a news reporter as well as managing editor and I used that time to cover sexual assault stories, as well as sharing mine. Writing about the truth allowed me to advocate for victims and deal with my own trauma.”
Every female journalist has the key to their second door in hand at all times. For some that door comes in the form of a yoga class and for others it is deep and intensive therapy sessions to get through the days.
The weight of our current culture is one that is slowly shifting the tides for sexual assault survivors, and for those who do not consume the news cycle as if hooked up to an IV drip, they are able to to detach and disassociate from it all. But for those of us who lead lives that require we be junkies, getting our fix is the last thing we want some days.
“I get discouraged often. But I try to practice the humility to remember when I feel helpless and hopeless that it’s not my job to single handedly dismantle the patriarchy,” said Williams. “It’s my job to be part of the process of making it better. I do that through my work but I also achieve that, I hope, through being a decent person in the world in general.”
Journalism at its core is holding the truth to the flame and engaging readers with stories that make them feel less alone. Stories that inform and ultimately afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. This cleanse of sexual predators being held accountable for their actions is one that we all play a role in, but allowing ourselves and our mind the time to check-out and disengage is equally allowed.
This does not get easier, but knowing we’re not alone in this, provides some form of comfort, and for now that is what we hold onto.