Christine Blasey Ford, Sally Quinn, And Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault

Fifty years ago, a young college student who would become one of the most influential women in Washington was sexually assaulted by a Senator. She didn't come forward with her story for more than fifty years, and the reasons why strike close to what we've been talking about for three weeks now.

One of the many questions that some Republicans raised about the allegations that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made against Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the issue of why it took her thirty-six years to come forward with her story of having been sexually assaulted at the age of fifteen. President Trump himself attacked Dr. Blasey Ford more than once based on this aspect of her story, something that she later said she found very distressing. The same objection was raised last year by supporters of Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of Alabama who had become the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate and who was accused of making inappropriate advances toward teenage girls when he was in his thirties. In response to these questions, many women came forward to tell their own stories, many of whom had kept what happened to them secret from friends, family, and even their husbands and children. This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. We’ve known for quite a long time that sexual assault, whether it is committed against women or men, is one of the most under reported crimes in the United States. The reasons for keeping quiet are as myriad as the stories themselves, but generally include fear of the consequences of revealing such intimate things, fear of retribution, and fear that they won’t really be believed.

One of the most amazing examples of that silence can be found in a new piece in The New Yorker in which Sally Quinn, one of the most powerful women in Washington, tells her own #MeToo story to Susan Glasser:

A generation ago, there was another Senate confirmation fight derailed at the last minute by serious allegations of drinking and sexual misconduct. John Tower, a retired Republican senator from Texas, was nominated to be President George H. W. Bush’s defense secretary. The 1989 fight over his confirmation took place two years before Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas transfixed the nation, before talk of pubic hairs and Coke cans, and a would-be Justice’s porn-watching habits forever changed the national discourse.

Most commentators have compared the Kavanaugh fight to that over Thomas’s nomination, and with good reason. Like Kavanaugh, Thomas eventually won, while at the same time the Senate’s deeply flawed process and female outrage over it produced a Democratic victory at the ballot box in the next election. But ever since the Ford allegations about Kavanaugh surfaced, I have thought about the John Tower fight, and especially one of its most poignant, little-known subplots.

In the early ninteen-sixties, the journalist Sally Quinn was a twenty-year-old sophomore at Smith College when she met Tower at a cocktail party given by her parents. In a memoir, “Finding Magic,” published last year, Quinn recounted how, after the party, Tower asked her to lunch on the Hill, a date that was postponed to dinner. He attempted to rape her in the back seat of a taxi afterward. Quinn described how she was in shock, how she pleaded with him, “Senator, Senator, please stop,” and how she begged the cab driver, who realized what was happening, and hurried her to her parents’ home. “Overwhelmed with guilt and shame,” she told no one about it for years. When Tower was nominated for the Pentagon job, in 1989, Quinn was a famous journalist married to Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the Washington Post, when two F.B.I. agents knocked on her door and asked about the incident. Quinn refused to talk to them. She did not believe her account would remain confidential. Besides, she had no corroboration, no proof. Who would believe her?

I called Quinn the night before Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to ask what she thought about her own experience all these years later. “I could have been Anita Hill,” she pointed out, “but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it to ruin my life.” I wondered whether Quinn would think things were different this time, that the world had changed at all in the nearly thirty years since she had her own chance to decide whether to go public with her story of abuse at the hands of a powerful man. No way, she said. “Nothing has changed since Anita Hill, not a damn thing.” It sounded pessimistic to me, but also not necessarily wrong.

I called Quinn back on Thursday evening, after a tumultuous week, when it was already clear that the tumult would likely not change the outcome of Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment. Quinn said that she believed Ford had been telling the truth, but that it would not matter. “Bottom line,” she said, “civic duty or no, it’s just not worth it.”

Let’s just ponder this for a second.

For decades, Sally Quinn has been one of the powerful, most influential, most respected women in Washington, D.C. In addition to her own accomplishments as an author and journalist, her marriage to Ben Bradlee, the late legendary editor of The Washington Post made her part of the biggest “power couple” in the city aside from the President and First Lady. In fact, while Presidents and their wives came and went during the thirty-five years that her and Bradlee were married, “Ben and Sally” as the people in the know referred to the couple, were fixtures in Washington and friends with Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and Congressmen, not to mention all of the other men and women in power in Washington from the Nixon Administration to the Obama Administration. Aside from the late Katherine Graham, who was the publisher of the Post and Bradlee’s ultimate boss, I think it’s fair to say that there was no woman in Washington during this period who was more respected or who was more sought after as a guest at cocktail parties and State Dinners and someone that people who wanted to “be somebody” in Washington wished to call a friend.

John Tower, of course, was a former United States Senator from Texas who President George H.W. Bush had nominated as his first choice for Secretary of Defense. Who had represented Texas in the Senate for more than twenty years before retiring prior to the 1984 Election. Subsequently, he served as the head of a commission that was charged with investigating the Iran-Contra Scandal during President Reagan’s second term. While he was a Senator, he served on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee and was the Chairman of that committee from 1981 until he retired thanks to the Republicans capturing control of that body in the 1980 Election. He had also served as one of the chief negotiators in arms control talks with the Soviets in the final years of the Cold War. Initially, Tower’s confirmation as Defense Secretary seemed assured given his long history in Washington and the fact that he had served with nearly all the Senators who would be voting on his nomination. Soon after his name was put forward for nomination, though, questions were raised about Tower’s drinking habits and about alleged womanizing while he was a Senator and afterward. Ultimately, Tower’s nomination was rejected by the Senate and President Bush nominated Dick Cheney to be his Secretary of Defense.

Had she come forward, Quinn’s story could very well have been as impactful on Tower’s nomination as Blasey Ford’s allegations were against Justice Kavanaugh. As noted above, though, Quinn, who by that point in the late 80s had already entered legendary status in Washington’s power circles. Despite this, she chose not to come forward with her story. Why? Well, we have only her words to go by but they are worth repeating:

When Tower was nominated for the Pentagon job, in 1989, Quinn was a famous journalist married to Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the Washington Post, when two F.B.I. agents knocked on her door and asked about the incident. Quinn refused to talk to them. She did not believe her account would remain confidential. Besides, she had no corroboration, no proof. Who would believe her?

I called Quinn the night before Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to ask what she thought about her own experience all these years later. “I could have been Anita Hill,” she pointed out, “but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want it to ruin my life.”

I didn’t want to ruin my life. This is a woman who, at the time, was arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in Washington, a woman who could count Presidents, First Ladies, and many powerful people as friends. Despite this, she still thought of herself as the scared young college student in the back of a cab with an already powerful Senator from Texas. One would think that, even in the era of the late 1980s when the relationship between the sexes was far different than they are today and allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment were viewed far differently, that if anyone in Washington was going to be believed it would be Sally Quinn, regardless of the fact that the events she would have accused Tower of had occurred twenty years earlier. If Sally Quinn was afraid to come forward, is it any wonder that an ordinary woman like Christine Blasey Ford didn’t come forward for nearly four decades, or that many women who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone?

FILED UNDER: Crime, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    If Sally Quinn was afraid to come forward, is it any wonder that an ordinary woman like Christine Blasey Ford didn’t come forward for nearly four decades, or that many women who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone?

    Oh come now, heterosexual white men deserve the benefit of the doubt! People can’t simply go around accusing them of sexual crimes without proof! People like Donald Trump are innocent until proven guilty! Now, of course, there is a far different standard for people of color…like the Central Park Five…they’re guilty until proven innocent…Trump himself told us that…

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I didn’t tell anyone but my mother for a good 20 years, and then it was to my wife.

    These men – Grassley et al – are bullies practicing cruelty. I’m sure Bung and the other members of #Cult45 will be along to whine on behalf of the wrongly accused. And we should never accept accusation alone as proof, but we should certainly take it into evidence, so to speak and assess the credibility. But I’ll tell you something: I’ve been a hetero male writing for teenagers for 30 years. My core demo is 14 year-old girls. I should be a ripe target for false accusations and yet: zero. Not one.

    Further, I am not a beloved figure in kidlit. I’ve been too successful for too long and made too much money which, combined with a tendency to express my political opinions in less than gentle terms (I know, surprising) there are a bunch of people in kidlit who actively despise me. And yet, when kidlit had its #MeToo moment and half a dozen writers were accused, I was not, while some guys who were genuinely beloved, were.

    This does not suggest to me that we are in much danger of a rash of false accusations. I think #MeToo needs to do a better job of defining terms, but we are not seeing some wild melee in which males are being taken down like unlucky antelopes by a hungry lioness.

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  3. grumpy realist says:

    We’ve seen what happens when we try to bring our assaults to the attention of those in power. We get called money-hungry liars, sluts, crazy bitches. And that’s those of us who are upper-middle class or upper class.

    Now imagine what it’s like for a young waitress from a working-class background.

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  4. JKB says:

    @grumpy realist: Now imagine what it’s like for a young waitress from a working-class background.

    No need to imagine. You just have to not be willfully blind to history of Democrats in the White House or their minions in the media.

    One of those who spoke for the White House was James Carville, the Clinton adviser who portrays himself as a real grass-roots kind of guy. But of Jones, Carville said: “Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there’s no telling what you’ll find.”

    Then the Newsweek article made this stunning admission: “Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, the author of this piece, said on a Washington talk show that Jones was just `some sleazy woman with big hair coming out of the trailer parks.’ This elitist attitude was widely shared by the establishment press.”

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    Yes, and now can you tell us the story of how Robert Byrd (dead since 2010) used to be KKK?

    Are you actually so dim you don’t understand that prior bad acts don’t excuse present bad acts? Do you not see that your own example shows that Democrats have progressed while Republicans are still stuck in the 1970’s (being generous)?

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  6. Rupert Simmons says:

    Soon after his name was put forward for nomination, though, questions were raised about Tower’s drinking habits and about alleged womanizing while he was a Senator and afterward.

    Soon after.

    Meaning everyone knew what a cad Tower was, even tho it may have been “politely” glossed over until he was nominated for SecDef.

    Now compare that to Kavanaugh where you had a single accuser at the last minute with an evil smear campaign to destroy a man. (The other accusers aren’t even worth talking about except to note how ludicrous their claims were, and to note that a pattern of Kavanaugh’s behavior was never established.)

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  7. Mikey says:

    @JKB: Yeah, we all know the people who defended Bill Clinton 25 years ago said some shitty things.

    But you support Trump.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: Can’t you ever say anything that isn’t a textbook example of whataboutism?

    Grow up!

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  9. CSK says:

    When I was in high school, any female student assaulted by a member of the football team would have never reported it, because she knew she would have become the villain. There were those who would have secretly believed her, but they would never have defended her, nor sought to have her attacker punished. Why? Because the male faculty overwhelmingly worshiped the football players–a fact that aroused my hearty 15-year-old contempt–and would have gone to any lengths to protect them.

    I’m pretty sure this is still true.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Well, he has no other way to defend the orange idiot. He certainly can’t advance logical or moral arguments. The total of JKB’s insights is: duh, other people did bad stuff, so it’s OK if we do it. By which logic he could justify slavery and genocide. It’s the kind of ‘thinking’ you get when a guy is just fighting a side rather than any actual beliefs.

  11. KM says:

    If Sally Quinn was afraid to come forward, is it any wonder that an ordinary woman like Christine Blasey Ford didn’t come forward for nearly four decades, or that many women who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone?

    I didn’t. The first time he grabbed my ass at work, I was 16 and couldn’t believe what just happened. We were out on the floor, in public and plain view of the whole kitchen. Must have been at least 10 people bustling about. It happened so fast and he just kept talking and moving like nothing happened and I just…. couldn’t understand what just occurred. I looked around and all my co-workers heads were down – had they seen anything? If they did, they were definitely pretending they hadn’t. Was I supposed to speak up? Would they back me? I was in a room full of people and was acutely aware if it came down to it, I might have no “witnesses” because nobody wanted to deal with it. Over the next few weeks I realized two things very quickly: don’t ever be within reaching distance and nobody never saw anything, even if it was right in front of their faces. Oh we all knew but if anyone wanted to go to HR, it was clear they were going alone and “he said, she said” would rapidly become “well, where’s your evidence? All those people and nobody saw anything?”

    It’s like why people don’t speak up against gang violence. Yeah, somebody knows something about that drive-by. But why risk your neck? What do you have to gain vs what you will definitely lose? Your character called into question (so how *do* you know this?), being opened up to retribution, being disbelieved because of who you are and not having “proof”. Add in they’ll forget about you but that taint hangs around – snitches get stitches after the cops walk away. Get fired a few weeks later for some piddling thing like “being late” or “not covering enough shifts”. Better to keep your head down and do your best to avoid what you can. The system isn’t there to protect you so you have to protect yourself.

    I kept my mouth shut because I was young and needed the job. I did my best to make sure I or any other female was 10ft away from him at all times. Faked calls to the floor or customers asking questions to get away or rescue someone who needed it. Had myself a drink when he finally got fired for dipping into the till. Had another when I finally told a boyfriend years later, only for him to scold me and tell me I should have said something right away. People like him were the ones with their heads firmly down when I needed a witness or some help but oh deary dear, why didn’t I speak up?

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  12. Slugger says:

    There are reports of thousands, maybe ten thousand, unprocessed rape kits all over the country. That is the reality of what happens to allegations of this crime. There is very little interest by the law enforcers to pursue these crimes. For lesser forms of transgression, it is unlikely that a victim will get the time of day from the cops. That’s how things work.

  13. Jen says:

    Kavanaugh’s behavior was as a teen, Towers and Thomas were adults in the workforce. I think this was at least part of the mental gymnastics we’ve seen relative to his case that is different. He appears to have shaped up after finishing law school, and Americans seem somewhat more inclined to forgive transgressions in youth.

    The message it sends is a sadly consistent one: it is not worth your effort to publicly call out a harasser.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: I think you may be missing a key element in this issue. The fact that you guys are just the same is not to your credit. The fact that Democrats have, at least at times, worked and acted to change the climate IS to theirs.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @Woke Wookie: I’ve paid no attention to Keith Ellison, other than to note that apparently someone with that name exists, and that he has become a magical enchantment on the right to ward off accusations of attempted rape and dick flapping by Kavanaugh.

    Booker is another case. He wrote of how, as a 15 year old boy, he tried to cop a feel of boob, was rebuffed, and then tried again, and that he now regrets it. He became good friends with the girl, learned to treat girls as people rather than just objects, etc. This isn’t sexual assault, this is learning how to act as you are growing up.

    You’re equating 15 year old boy reaching for booby twice with Kavanaugh at age 17 sexually assaulting someone with his friend, holding his hand over her mouth and trying to undress her. You’re not even claiming that Kavanaugh didn’t do it, you’re saying that it doesn’t matter because Booker reached for a booby twice when he was 15.

    That’s just disgusting.

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  16. Ed Newsfeed says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m sure Bung and the other members of #Cult45 will be along to whine on behalf of the wrongly accused.

    I would whine but I’ve apparently been banned. Yeah, THAT will improve the quality of discussion around here.

    Mike

  17. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’ve gone back and forth on copying this over from my Facebook feed for the past two weeks, but this seems like a good thread for it.

    Why do I believe Dr. Ford?

    Because I was raped when I was 23, by a man I met in a bar. I saw him again in a bar a few years later, when he struck up a conversation and tried to get me to go home with him using almost the exact same language he had used several years earlier.

    The second I saw him, I knew who he was. And here he was, talking to me like I was a total stranger. As far as he was concerned, we had never met and he was trying to use the same tricks on me as though as I had never heard them before.

    In less time than it took me to light a cigarette in order to give both of my hands and my brain something to engage in other than immediate fight or flight, he made it obvious that I would never get anything resembling closure from him. How could he remember raping me when he didn’t think we had ever even met before?

    He changed the entire course of my life in one night and yet I was a total stranger to him.

    Why didn’t I report it?

    Because I was 23 and he was in his 40s. Because I was a poor college student and he owned a really nice house with a horse barn in a rich Connecticut suburb. Because, as he got drunker and drunker, he got more and more angry, and I just wanted to stay alive long enough to get back to the bus stop the next day. Because the immediate reaction of the few people that I did tell (both men and women) was to find a way to reframe it so that I was describing consensual sex. Because I just wanted to never have to think about it again. Because there was no chance that, in 1993, a rural CT sheriff’s office was going to believe a scruffy college boy over a local established homeowner.

    I’m not going to explain further or reply to any stupid comments by Bunge or James Pearce or TM01 or JKB, because there is literally no way for me to do it without trying to reach through the computer screen and strangle them. And, honestly, I don’t care if they believe me or not. I just want people who read this who are reachable, or who were victims themselves, to know that there are so many more of us than you realize. And many of us will be entering the ballot box in November with a degree of righteous fury that the Bunges and Pearces and JKBs are incapable of allowing themselves to even begin to comprehend.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Ed Newsfeed:
    If you were banned it’s because you lie prodigiously, move the goalposts constantly, refuse to engage with facts, and do nothing but uncritically regurgitate whatever idiocy you heard on Hannity. Rational, adult discussion requires good will and above all, honesty.

    Dealing with you is like dealing with someone who cheats at chess. The game isn’t fun if you ignore the rules. If you want to talk politics and philosophy you’re going to have to become something a bit more than a bargain basement Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Like her you don’t even invent original lies, you just repeat the lies Trump tells, so who needs you? Not much of a market for second-hand lies.

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  19. Scott F. says:

    Quinn was right and Dr. Ford was wrong to believe it would ever be otherwise. And still the Kavanaugh flunkies flock here to claim Ford must be lying, because there was SO MUCH for her to gain from it. The cognitive dissonance – it burns!

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Yeah, THAT will improve the quality of discussion around here.

    Getting rid of Trump fluffers will most definitely improve the quality of discussion around here…anyone who wants to see obsequious toadies kissing Trump’s ass is free to turn on Fox “News”…meanwhile, I love how random assholes who insult the hosts of this site expect anything other than being banned…

  21. wr says:

    @Rupert Simmons: “Meaning everyone knew what a cad Tower wa”

    Hmm. Then why did Republicans spend years screaming about how he was unjustly crucified by evil Democrats?

  22. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: ” The total of JKB’s insights is: duh, other people did bad stuff, so it’s OK if we do it.”

    I think that’s far too generous. I think the total of his insights is: “My team rules, your team drools, fuck you we win.”

    He doesn’t care about all these bullshit whatabout rationalizations. It just makes him feel all clever inside.

  23. wr says:

    @Ed Newsfeed: “Yeah, THAT will improve the quality of discussion around here.:

    That’s what Baby Jenos used to claim. But you know something? When he went away, this site became a lot more interesting, because people could actually discuss issues.

    So I hope you have a good life. Bye.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Ed Newsfeed: I realize you believe you’re being censored because of your point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Speaking for myself, I welcome hearing different points of view. It’s easy for these political blogs to devolve into echo chambers. That’s one of the reasons why I like OTB–there’s a nice balance between the center-right perspective of the hosts and the center-left views of most of the commenters. Granted, the hosts are pretty uniformly anti-Trump, but there’s still plenty of civil discussion when we disagree on things. That alone makes this a better place than a majority of political blogs you’ll find on the Internet.

    As I’ve explained to you over and over and over, the problem with you isn’t that you’re expressing views that are unpopular here, it’s that you refuse to engage with any of us in a constructive manner. You just barge into every thread and produce a stream of hostile verbiage–then you proceed to ignore every single rebuttal to your arguments. Then a few days later you’re back in a new thread asserting precisely the same things, without showing the slightest recognition that we’ve addressed any of your points. You want this to be a one-way conversation in which you just point and mock us–and that’s not something you can reasonably expect anyone to react favorably to.

    None of that is a problem with what you’re expressing, it is a problem with how you behave. Why would you possibly think a forum would take kindly to someone who does nothing but attack everyone else and then promptly shut their ears to what anyone else has to say?

    And if we’re just as close-minded as you claim (which as I explained the other day is massive projection, but never mind), then what value do you think you’re providing by just trying to shout us down? You may not believe you’re going to reach us by engaging in normal conversation, but you certainly aren’t going to sway anyone by doing what you do.

    From what I can see, the main reason you were banned is because of your off-topic posts. Now, I realize it’s common for people here to do the occasional OT passing along some bit of news or something they find interesting. That’s a far cry from what you were doing, which was attempting to derail threads in order to talk about the things you wanted to talk about–and often personally attacking the hosts on top of things.

    I’ve mentioned before that I rarely use the downvote button. I certainly don’t do it just to say I disagree with someone, or even if I feel they’re being obnoxious. But one instance when I definitely used it, a few years ago, was for a liberal commenter who began personally attacking the hosts, claiming all conservatives are either racists or racist-enablers and therefore deserve no respect. This commenter received a flood of downvotes despite having views most people here agreed with–because one of the cardinal sins you can do on a forum is attack the hosts. You are here at their pleasure. The least you can do is show them the proper respect for allowing you the privilege of posting. That’s the line you crossed, not the fact that you disagreed with them.

  25. Monala says:

    @An Interested Party: according to Trump, the Central Park Five were still guilty even after being exonerated.