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Assault on Justice: MacKinnon's Cartoon of the Kavanaugh Hearing

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Bruce MacKinnon' cartoon based on Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony of sexual assault shook many women: To some, it was a gut punch.

Bruce MacKinnon' cartoon based on Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony of sexual assault shook many women: To some, it was a gut punch.

Have You Ever Testified About Sexual Assault?

Every time I look at Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon, my stomach churns just a little. The image (seen above) was based on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony about United States Supreme Court nominee Bruce Kavanaugh's alleged sexual assault of her decades ago, testimony that was largely ignored.

While there were many online supporters of Dr. Blasey Ford, there were those who questioned her motives in testifying. Of course, some questioned how a woman would have been treated had they behaved in the manner in which Kavanaugh did during the hearing.

I usually stay away from watching confirmation hearings for future Supreme Court justices; I tend to find them incredibly dry. It was this cartoon from Bruce MacKinnon of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, that had me and others reeling.

Bruce MacKinnon's Cartoon

My feelings had nothing to do with the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford or the political bent of the cartoon itself. Rather, it was the sense of powerlessness in Lady Justice's face. It's a feeling with which I am unfortunately familiar, and I know there are countless other women who feel much the same way. Anyone—male or female—who's been sexually assaulted knows all too well just how powerless you can be when you find yourself in that situation, and the aftermath of it will resonate for years after, even with counseling and therapy.

I applaud MacKinnon's artwork in this case, and I think that while the image of those two arms pinning Lady Justice down speaks for itself, it's the palpable tension in her face that caused this image to go viral. Yes, it took a lot of bravery for Dr. Blasey Ford to testify, and I can only imagine just how sleepless she was and how she had to relive this experience. However, this incident—and so many others that have come to light since #MeToo—also likely ignited a resurgence of memories in the minds of countless sexual assault survivors.

MacKinnon's editorial cartoon of Lady Justice being visibly restrained and visibly distressed served as far more than just a comment on the Kavanaugh hearings. It became something of a rallying point about how women are affected by the justice system as a whole.

Sexist Responses to Sexual Assault

Men are certainly also victims of sexual assault, and underreport the crime significantly due to the victimization they undoubtedly feel. For whatever reason, though, men appear to be taken more seriously when it comes to reporting of sexual assault. Men are unlikely to face questions about what they were wearing at the time, or what they did to provoke the assault, or why they were walking through a particular area.

Even in a simple tribunal (a non-criminal proceeding), women are asked about their history of sexual activity, what they wore, or even about other dates in their history. The MacKinnon editorial cartoon was a heartwrenching reminder about the trials women can go through, from reporting a sexual assault straight through to the actual trial.

Do women feel afraid when trying to do the right thing and report a sexual assault when it happens? No doubt; there's a history of very uncomfortable and personal questions that are asked during a sexual assault investigation. Certainly, both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator should have to be questioned about what happened. But historically, women have been thrown under the microscope in sexual assault cases seemingly more so than men. The questions that women are faced with seem necessary, but far more probing than the ones men typically have to deal with.

Not that men aren't sometimes treated unfairly by the criminal justice system, but when you consider the statistics from RAINN—the ones that say for every 1000 sexual assault cases, 994 of those accused go free—the odds of a woman successfully reporting a sexual assault and that report going all the way through to a conviction is slim.

It's little wonder that this editorial cartoon resonated so strongly with so many.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.