Recently, several women have stepped forward to accuse Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, including prominent research psychologist and professor Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University graduate who attended the school at the same time as Kavanaugh. In such a decisive and contentious nomination, many are asking why these accusers have only now come forward. So many doubt the truthfulness of their statements, which have been all unequivocally dismissed by Kavanaugh. Some question if this is merely a ploy by the Democratic Party to dismantle the nomination of a conservative judge to the Supreme Court. As our president put it, “If the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed immediately with local Law Enforcement Authorities.” In other words, if this really did happen, then why haven’t we heard about it sooner?
There are several reasons to explain why the victims of Kavanaugh’s sexual transgressions have withheld their information for so long. For one thing, a common challenge sexual assault survivors report is difficulty even coming to terms with the event itself. As attested to by Dr. Carolyn West, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who was recently interviewed for an article in The New York Times concerning the growing response to Ford’s allegations, “It may take a survivor a while to process that trauma, and even to identify what has happened.” Indeed, signs of sexual assault are often manifested by a host of symptoms, which are responsible for upending the person’s ability to abley function in day-to-day life. While sexual assault is processed different by each individual, experts often list common behavioral problems attributed to the event such as relationship problems, the feeling of hopelessness and emotional numbness. Even when assuming that Ford and Ramirez have addressed the significant barriers of factoring in the emotional trauma of the assaults in their personal relationships, there is also the social stigma and public backlash associated with survivors who openly accuse their perpetrators, especially when the person in question is a high-profile, highly respected individual. So often the victims of sexual violence refrain from bringing their ordeals to be managed by “the authorities” because of fear of, not only the shame, but the repercussions they might face. As brought to light by the many accusers of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, among others, a common tactic used by sexual predators is to leverage their power within their respective industry to force their victims to have sex with them, or to buy their silence after the fact with threat of discreditation, alienation or losing their jobs. In the case of Ford, she and her family have been forced to temporarily abandon their home because of the seriousness of the death threats she has received.
While I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogate Kavanaugh on Sept. 27, I was struck by the level of partisanship so obvious throughout the hearing. What I saw lacking in most of the questions posed by the Senate committee was an objective approach; most of the members seemed to have already made up their mind, convinced either of his guilt or innocence. When Democratic senators took the floor to question Kavanaugh, the questions they usually posed against his defense concerned his drinking habits in high school and college, his whereabouts on the nights his accusers have placed him and why he continues to resist both a polygraph test and a formal FBI investigation. Overall, they appeared much more sympathetic towards Ford’s case and took a much harder line to interrogating Kavanaugh then the opposing party did. When a Republican committee member had his time to speak, it often was to reprimand the other Democrats on the committee for orchestrating what they called a “sham”, for withholding Ford’s formal complaint to one of her respective senators for weeks and for subjecting all parties involved and their families to public scrutiny and embarrassment. They maintain that this could have been dealt with much more quietly and expressed outrage that Kavanaugh’s integrity had been so thoroughly and publicly questioned. More than one conservative senator apologized to Kavanaugh, who, they stated, was a respectable man who neither deserved nor was responsible for these accusations. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in particular delivered an enraged rebuke to the Democrats, saying that it was “the most despicable thing I’ve seen in my entire time in politics.” Interestingly enough, while the majority of the all-male conservative delegation expressed their support in Kavanaugh’s potential nomination because of their firm belief in the veracity of his statements, they were careful not to accuse Ford of lying. They instead attributed the root of the issue to the Democratic party, noting that “somebody betrayed her trust.”
The back-and-forth between the two parties exemplified the severely divided opinions on the board alone. The bulk of the Democrats tried hard to back Kavanaugh into a corner, demanding simple yes-or-no answers in order to avoid giving him any opportunities to misdirect the question, while the Republican majority appeared more concerned with the dignity of the parties involved and in particular the innocence of the nominee. This brings up another question. Why are the Republicans and Kavanaugh so concerned with the privacy of the accusers? If there is truly nothing to hide, surely the accusations at the very least deserve to be heard and investigated. Their apparent priority to protect the Kavanaugh family and the families of the accusers seems conspicuously shifty; if truly concerned with the facts, why is the dignity of all parties involved, however inherent, valued above the objective truth? Simply put, denying the chance of victims to even be heard plays a serious factor in contributing to why they don’t come forward in the first place.
Like Graham, Kavanagh himself delivered a passionate defense. He denied his culpability by frequently either avoiding the questions posed by the committee or turning the question back to the person it was posed by. On one occasion, in response to an inquiry about his drinking habits as a teenager, he responded, “I like beer. You like beer? What do you like to drink, Senator?” Another point pushed by Democrats was his refusal to call for an FBI investigation, which he admittedly has little power to formally do. Kavanaugh maintained, “I will do whatever the committee wants to do because I’m telling the truth,” which was somewhat undermined by his resistance to directly answer certain questions.
While I’m withholding absolute judgement on Kavanaugh until he has been investigated more thoroughly, I think it is worth listening to these women who have come forward to accuse him. Forcing themselves to confront their attacker on a public level exposes them, and others in similar situations, to all kinds of ridicule, not to mention threats made to them and their families’ lives. In response to the Kavanaugh’s categorical denial of these women’s claims, I personally harbor suspicions that he himself may be lying. What I believe prompted Ford, and then eventually Ramirez, to go public with their stories was their unwillingness to see their perpetrator appointed to such a position of power. Maybe they had suffered in silence before, trying to push aside their painful memories should they even manifest themselves, but in the end they made their decision: that such a powerful, respected, even admired man should be held accountable for the violations he had incurred.
I don’t see what his accusers have to gain by exposing Kavanaugh. Perhaps it is a partisan ploy, as suggested by many Republicans and conservatives. However, while Kavanaugh himself denies drinking heavily and having sexual intercourse in high school and for “many years after,” whatever that means, that does not remove him from the possibility of committing a sex crime. Several people who knew him in high school and college, including his freshman year Yale roommate, describe him as someone at odds with the person Kavanaugh has officially maintained. His freshman roommate says Kavanaugh frequently came back to their dorm room severely intoxicated. Whether or not there is any truth to the women he has been accused of assaulting, you have to admit there might be some issues with his claim of not engaging in frequent, heavy drinking. As a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity at Yale notorious for partying, which in college is usually synonymous with alcohol abuse, it seems that Kavanaugh may not be entirely truthful about at least one part of his defense. Additionally, a close friend of Kavanaugh while attending prestigious Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Maryland, describes him as part of his social circle he called “Alcoholics Unanimous,” and a frequent participant of house parties which frequently were centered around drinking and “hooking up” with intoxicated girls. As I’m writing this, I’ve just became aware of even more allegations being leveled at the Supreme Court justice nominee. One was by former government employee Julie Swetnick, who describes not only being drugged and raped at a party hosted largely by Georgetown Prep boys, but also observing Kavanaugh “waiting his turn” to participate in a gang rape. Two others remain unnamed, but are described as being sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in 1998 while he was working in Colorado and in 1985 in Newport, R.I. While he still maintains that these disturbing accounts are entirely fictional, it seems that the evidence is being stacked against him.
Whether or not Kavanaugh will be vindicated or convicted remains to be seen. And while Kavanaugh continues to deny that he was responsible for any of these attacks, I won’t be surprised to see even more accusations leveled against him in the near future.