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As my friends walked out of their college classrooms last week, I walked into Senator Susan Collins’ office in the U.S. Capitol. I missed class at the University of Maine to fly to Washington, D.C. to do my part to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Clutching 45 letters from my fellow Mainers, I stepped up to the front desk. I wasn’t there just to deliver letters. I was there to tell Senator Collins about my sexual assault.
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I found myself telling a member of the Senator’s staff about being a college freshman and going back to my dorm drunk from a party. I told him about a boy who lived on my hall who said he wanted to check on me, but instead touched me and ignored my requests to leave my room. The hardest part of the story to tell this staff member was how the boy in my room shut the door on me when I tried to leave. How he told everyone outside of the room that I was fine. Sometimes when I hear a door shut loudly, I can still feel myself in that moment, disoriented and exhausted.
I told this stranger—a white man with a blank look on his face—about one of the most difficult nights of my life and why Senator Collins needed to think hard about voting for Brett Kavanaugh. I told him things that I had previously reserved for those I trusted most, hoping he would truly listen, that Senator Collins would truly listen and that she would act accordingly. I told my story, despite the pain that comes from reliving the experience, hoping it would affect the decision that Senator Collins made. It comes down to this: What I told that staff member is a story so many individuals in the state of Maine could have told. I told my story with all of them in my heart.
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When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford shared her fears and doubts in front of the Senate Committee, it was like I was hearing my own story. Watching Dr. Blasey Ford answer questions intended to make her doubt herself was a reminder of why I didn’t tell anyone about what happened to me.
Seventy-seven percent of assaults go unreported. Like Dr. Blasey Ford, too many people who speak up about an experience of sexual assault suffer further hurt and humiliation by having their story dismissed, their integrity doubted, or their motives questioned. At first, I didn’t tell anyone about what happened. I told myself there were so many things I could have done to prevent it. I didn’t know what to say.
When Dr. Blasey Ford told her story, it took her 19 minutes. Just a week later, Senator Collins took almost 45 minutes to explain why she was going to vote for Brett Kavanaugh. Why it was enough that Kavanaugh has promised to respect the precedent of Roe v. Wade (when we all know that he will vote again and again to undermine the right to safe, legal abortion. His record tells us so). Why the multiple accusations of sexual assault swirling around him weren’t enough.
When Senator Collins cast her vote, she made a choice that left the people of Maine, and me, heartbroken. In supporting Kavanaugh, she sided with people who disbelieved and disrespected all survivors of sexual assault. She sided with the people who told me that what happened in my freshman dorm room wasn’t bad enough to mean anything.
If there is anything good that can come from this, it’s the outpouring of love for survivors. I know that what I feel is valid, and I want to make sure other survivors know that they are believed and that we won’t stand for this. My friends and I will continue creating spaces to help survivors feel heard on campus, no matter how many times we have to keep speaking out and sharing our stories. We will be believed, and we will continue to make sure our representatives in Washington hear us and believe us, too.
Taylor Cray is a student at University of Maine in Orono.