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Memory Has No Statute of Limitations: Women Do Not Forget Sexual Assaults Against Them” is my latest piece for Feminist Studies in Religion.


Memory Has No Statute of Limitations: Women Do Not Forget Sexual Assaults Against Them

There is a statute of limitations on prosecuting sexual crimes. But there is no time limitation on revealing past truths.

When I was a child, bad things happened to me. I have told only 2 people in this world what happened to me. However, because I never ‘reported’ it, it doesn’t make my experience less real. It was real and whether I chose to speak up during my youth, middle age, or in my old age, it is my own personal decision to do so. Time may adjust my feelings about it and my memory of it, but time does not erase the fact of an event. As a person of faith, I believe that the Spirit calls me to speak my truth beyond what others may want of me. It also calls me to speak out the truth when I encounter situations that reveal attempts to oppress the voices of other women. Uplifted by the #metoo movement, recent news has called me to speak out against those who would seek to impose a statue of limitations on memory and truth-telling.

When the news of Tom Brokaw’s alleged sexual assault came into light, many thought that it was ‘too old’—that it had happened too long ago—they were upset that three women decided to speak up about it. The first to speak up was Linda Vester, who described how Brokaw forced her to kiss him. Along with Peter Jennings at ABC News and Dan Rather at CBS News, Brokaw was one of the “Big Three” news anchors in the U.S. during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. He was a powerful man at NBC and at the time, Vester was in a junior position. She was scared of what happened to her and the consequences of making it public at the time.

Since then, two anonymous women have spoken up about sexual allegations against Brokaw. Brokaw has denied these allegations and now a list of 113 women have signed a letter of support for Brokaw, including big names like Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell. It has been reported that that the lower staff workers at NBC felt pressured to sign such a letter of support to protect NBC. Brokaw is synonymous with NBC.

Such a letter does not change the truth, but it does show how times have changed in over 20 years. Just because Brokaw didn’t assault those 113 women or the rest of women living in America, such a letter doesn’t redress the victims’ problems. It may count as a witness to Brokaw’s overall character, compared to more lascivious examples such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. He could have assaulted one or a 100, that doesn’t change the fact that it has been alleged that Brokaw assaulted some women some decades ago. But we also must recognize the power of the #metoo movement which allows women to speak up so that sexual assault will not continue to happen in the workplace, society, churches, and homes.

But when a letter of support circulates in support of an alleged perpetuator as “ man of tremendous decency and integrity”, what it signals to younger and powerless women is that we better not speak up. Or, perhaps it means that times have changed in the last 30 years and things which were once unspoken of and expected—they are no longer accepted. In other words, Brokaw isn’t still assaulting women, so what he might have done decades ago is irrelevant. It signals that because a man didn’t assault me, it means that he didn’t assault another women. It also signals that perhaps the victim was mistaken. The force of the letter is in the 113 signatures and those women who are powerful like Brokaw. If so many people think he’s a great guy, then you (the victim) must have misunderstood.

We cannot defend some men and not others who may have committed similar assaults. We should defend those for whom there is no evidence and indict those about whose acts there is evidence to be found. Press articles have defended Ryan Seacrest and Woody Allen just to name a few. Why are we selectively defending some and not others? Perhaps we need to think like a court where evidence is weighed carefully and differences in cases, such as the difference between Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein shows one’s trespasses are to a family member and the other is unrepentant about a life of misconduct. We must rethink the #metoo movement and what it means for women.

Truth has no time limits. We should not disregard these three courageous women who are standing up and sharing their personal experiences of horror, which has haunted them for years. Women should be more circumspect when asked to sign letters of support for men such as Brokaw who have assaulted women in order, in part, to protect an organization such as NBC.

We need to support the women who have spoken up and defend them. We need to support other women and pave the way for our daughters, nieces, friends, and neighbors so that attitudes regarding sexual crimes change and future victims are more willing to come forward in time to review the evidence in a court of law instead of the court of public opinion. As a person of faith, I need to speak out the truth when I see oppression against women and speak out against those who would seek to impose a statue of limitations on memory and truth-telling.