Walkout held in support of sexual violence victims, Kavanaugh accusers

MSU associate professor Sol Pelaez talks with other participants in Monday’s National Walkout and Moment of Solidarity in support of victims of sexual violence (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Ryan Phillips

Dozens of people took part locally in a widespread show of support for victims of sexual violence, which comes amid a nationwide debate concerning the most recent nominee to the country’s highest court.

Protesters dressed in black and carrying signs participated in the National Walkout and Moment of Solidarity on both the Mississippi State campus and at City Hall in downtown Starkville at noon on Monday.

The nationwide movement was spurred in part by the Me Too movement, but picked up momentum when a California professor - Christine Blasey Ford - recently accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during the confirmation process. In the last week, another woman, Deborah Ramirez, came forward in a magazine story accusing Kavanaugh of inappropriate behavior.

Ford is set to testify on Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Kavanaugh, to address the allegations.

Tara Sutton was one of the protesters on the Mississippi State Drill Field Monday and said her focus of study is sexual violence on college campuses.

“I’ve been a victim myself and I know that it’s something that’s often overlooked and ignored and with all the negative press that Dr. Ford is getting, I think she needs the support,” Sutton said. “(Ford) thinks that it would be egregious to have someone who treats women in such a way on the Supreme Court and I just want to support that message and the other victims as they come forward.”

Other academics were also on hand, holding signs and and standing in silence during a moment of solidarity for Ford and other victims.

Kimberly Kelly, the director of gender studies at MSU, said the country is at a critical turning point and those protesting are waging a battle for the future of the country and what they want it to look like.

“Now is not a time to appoint a man with a complete lack of ethics, someone who does not respect half the population,” Kelly said. “This is not the time, especially to appoint a man like that to the highest court in the land.”

The recent confirmation controversy also has many remembering when the first major sex scandal rocked the Supreme Court.

During Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation in 1991 after being appointed by President George H.W. Bush, he was accused of sexual harassment by attorney Anita Hill, which ignited a media firestorm and brought the conversation of workplace sexual violence to the forefront.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee completely botched the Anita Hill hearing,” Kelly said. “They had no idea how to handle it, they asked all the wrong questions, they suppressed evidence, they couldn’t have done a worse job if they wanted to.”

Kelly then said, since the Anita Hill controversy, there has not be any consensus reached on any kind of standardized procedure for investigating claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment against judicial nominees.

“Culturally, we are at a very different point in time between the Me Too movement and Time's Up, so voters, particularly women, and their men allies are holding politicians accountable in ways they never have before,” she said. “I would think if Kavanaugh is appointed to the Supreme Court and his nomination is approved, the senators who had that role in the nomination approval pay a heavy price come November.”

While just a few dozen people participated in the understated and peaceful protest, one counter-demonstrator showed up to the Drill Field in opposition.

“I believe a little bit of this is excess information being told,” said MSU student Keelan Pajak. “Women are sometimes over-exaggerating what has been done to them. If they did something they’re not proud of they can always resort back to ‘oh I didn’t want to do it.’”

Pajak then stressed he was not a supporter of rape culture. Rather, he said it is more a matter of perception and what he believes the truth to be.

“Rape is awful, but I also feel like they are using the advantage they have with anything,” Pajak said. “A woman’s word is always going to be taken over a man’s.”

MSU associate professor Sol Pelaez gave a speech during the protest, giving facts and statistics relating to sexual violence and said while it was important to highlight the numbers, it was just as important to show support for victims - using Ford as the primary example.
She said the event was “moving” for many participants, some of which were victims of sexual violence.

“Today, we are showing our support to (Ford),” Pelaez said. “I believe all survivors have a fighter core and with support become stronger, the path and the timing is different for each one. Our message was, we are here for you, whenever you are ready to support you in any manner you need. Our message is for Dr. Ford, who we support in these difficult situation, and for everyone else.”