During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford said that she was “100 percent” certain that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, that he was the boy who tried to force himself on her at a high school gathering in the 1980s.

Judge Kavanaugh said he, too, was 100 percent certain — that Dr. Blasey had the wrong guy.

Thankfully, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sided with reason instead of poisonous partisan politics, and asked for an F.B.I. investigation. Because he holds a crucial swing vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, he got his wish.

Regardless of what the FBI learns this week, this much is clear: Our country is bitterly divided along political lines, where we choose sides automatically without the advantage of facts and science and personal histories, without evidence, without testimony, without careful consideration. We chose emotion over intellect, political dogma over truth, our own turf over what is best for the greater good, personality over reason.

Every public issue has become a zero-sum game and the only metric that matters is this: Personal gain.

Our country must do better if democracy is to survive.

We can begin with a healthy and honest conversation about sexual assault in the U.S. — and here at home in southern West Virginia.

Last year, dozens of women and several men went public with their claims of sexual misconduct against powerful men in Hollywood, government, the tech industry and the media.

During the very week that America was choosing sides in the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Bill Cosby, once known as “America’s Dad,” was sentenced to three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home 14 years ago.

Sexual assault is a pernicious and pervasive phenomenon in our male-dominated society, victims most often belonging to groups of people — women, minorities and the poor — who have historically not had access to power. Shame and victimization put a suffocating hand over the victim’s voice. The more recent high-profile revelations only touch the surface — and what festers beneath is damning.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, released (in August), estimates that there were over 320,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. in 2016.

A majority of incidents in the survey — 84 percent — was reported by women and girls.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. The center also reports:

l 94 percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder during the two weeks following the rape, and 30 percent report symptoms nine months after the rape.

l 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide, and 13 percent attempt suicide.

The FBI’s investigation may not resolve the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and we will once again be back to a “he said, she said” situation.

But perhaps we can extract ourselves from the politics of the day and carry the conversation forward. Here is a starting point: Listen to the victims, their stories, and then encourage them to come forward. Promise them that we will prosecute their cases to the full extent of the law. Tell them we will stand with them and protect them — and that we will help them recover. Show them how we are making our public spaces safer.

We can no longer be comfortable saying that this kind of behavior happens while shrugging our shoulders. We can no longer question why a victim had been out late at night or raise an eyebrow at the company she kept. Also, what one person perceives as an innocent back rub in the office is an unwanted violation to another. If in doubt, keep your hands to yourself.

Sexual assault is not a political issue. It is a societal ill and the complete degradation — physically and psychologically — of an individual. Millions of individuals. It is evil and it is reprehensible. Certainly, if on nothing else, we can agree on that.

— The Register-Herald

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