Long Lens: SCOTUS Kavanaugh confirmation
*Content warning: Parts of this column may be potentially distressing to some readers.
In an era marked by the #MeToo movement. — where women now have a platform to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable and the world listens — a Supreme Court nominee who has been hit with sexual harassment accusations is more than problematic.
It’s a pivotal moment in history, for more reasons than a crusade to smash the patriarchy.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s pending confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States has been a beast from the moment he was nominated. Kavanaugh is President Donald Trump’s second SCOTUS nominee, and his confirmation to the nation’s highest court would tip the majority to favor more conservative decisions.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh would replace, was the SCOTUS swing vote. His tenure was marked by cases where his vote was key in swinging the court’s decision, such as Obergefell v Hodges (legalized same-sex marriage) and Roper v. Simmons (struck down the death penalty for juvenile offenders).
To replace a moderate voice with a judge whose record has been historically conservative is dangerous to democracy. And while losing bipartisanship across all forms of government is a chilling thought, it’s not the biggest problem I see.
Kavanaugh has been accused of instances of sexual harassment by two women. The women’s claims are both more than three decades old. Trump took to his usual platform, Twitter, to disparage the legitimacy of the claims.
His Sept. 21 tweet read: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
It’s clear from his tweet the president has never been the victim of sexual harassment or assault.
There are a multitude of reasons why a woman would not report her assault. In fact, the response to Trump’s message on Twitter was marked by a hashtag "#WhyIDidn’tReport."
As if it’s anyone else’s business why you didn’t report a heinous and intimate attack. As if your experience is diminished by your unwillingness to shout it from the rooftops, or for God’s sake, share it on Twitter as anecdotal evidence.
But if we were looking at this issue with clear eyes, not marked by months of turmoil and hurt feelings across the political spectrum, I think we would see the issue isn’t why women didn’t report, but why they were put in a situation to report something in the first place.
Again and again, women are targeted as the guilty party to their own assault. If she reports right away, the fingers begin pointing back at her.
“Well, what was she wearing/saying/drinking/doing?” or “Why did she go to that party?”
If she reports later, her credibility is questioned for waiting so long.
Imagine the most intimate thing you can do with a person. Then imagine it being done to you without your permission, as an act of terror, done to inflict harm or cause pain.
Your assailant walks away clean, and you are left with the physical and emotional scars of that encounter. Want to stand up for yourself? You have hours to get a rape kit done (if that’s even an option for the kind of sexual assault you experienced) in order to prove the crime which just took place.
Next, you get to hire an attorney and take the perpetrator to court. Maybe your case goes all the way up the judiciary chain to the Supreme Court.
Now your decision rests in the hands of nine justices. One of those could very well be a man accused of sexual assault, appointed by a man who has been recorded endorsing sexual harassment (remember “grab ‘em by the p****?”). You may likely face a man to whose alleged sexual crimes the world turned a blind eye and be forced to recount the most traumatic encounter of your life.
Why don’t women report? Would you?
Whether or not Kavanaugh’s alleged actions truly happened as his accusers say they did is not the part of this problem with which I take issue. It’s how quickly we are to dismiss the idea a young man who sexually harrasses or assaults women is a problem.
Maybe Kavanaugh is an innocent man and the women claiming assault truly are lying, as Trump might have you believe. It wouldn’t be hard to keep an adversary from being elected by making false accusations of sexual assault in today’s political climate.
Why a woman wouldn’t want to publicly cry rape is another column in itself. But to save time, it’s my position that most women wouldn’t put themselves through such a public spectacle for an outcome they may not achieve.
But even so, are we ready to appoint a man with these accusations to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court?
Remember Brock Turner? How does a young man literally caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman get by our legal system as easily as he did (just three months served in jail)? Because it was made possible by people who look like him for people who look like him.
And if we continue to forgive and forget the crimes men commit when they are “young and stupid,” we will continue to breed young men like Brock Turner.
We breed a society that blames the victim instead of the crime.