As I begin writing this, on the 27th of September, the day of the testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am sitting at my bedroom after a day of catching snippets of the testimonies and hearing the whole depth and breadth of thoughts and opinions to be held. I talked to probably over a dozen people about this whole mess, synthesizing, considering, and interpreting it all. When I woke up today, I certainly did not expect to be writing this, and, except for a brief three weeks at the start of my freshman year, I have not really considered contributing to The Roundup on any topic, and I generally don’t participate in political discussion. That said, after today, I feel some things have to be said.
Before I get into the content I’m about set down, I would like to make a few disclaimers. First, the views and opinions I express do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any organization of which I am a part. Second, I am of course open to revising my thoughts, as I do not wish to be so set in whatever I think that I should not be able to grow. Third, I have not watched the testimonies in full, and, to be honest, I have no real desire or intention to do so. Fourth, all of the references I make to conversations had will be anonymous and I will not, under any circumstances, share any more than what I put here. These stories are not mine to share.
I love this school. Deeply. I did not come to Jesuit liking it. I say that the decision to come to Jesuit was the best choice I never made. And, despite all the negative things I’ve seen or heard, I still love Jesuit. However, we are an imperfect community of imperfect people. Now, Judge Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit high school not unlike our own. I am certain the culture he grew up in during his time at Georgetown Prep was extremely similar to our own culture in the eighties, and I am sure it is very similar to our culture now. During my time here, I have seen, heard, or heard of students saying or doing sexist, racist, or discriminatory things. We have had our own share of scandals in which students or former students did things which do not reflect the values Jesuit wishes to instill, some very public and some not so. Of all high schools, we are certainly not unique, though that is absolutely no excuse. We ought to do better. As (most of us) Christians, we are called to do better, and I know of no other faith tradition in which adherents are not called to do better. In my opinion, Jesuit does an excellent job of working to form Men for Others, men with a healthy foundation in justice and love. But, knowing what I know of our school, I think it is entirely plausible that Mr. Kavanaugh could have the same shortcomings many of our own brothers have struggled with.
I admit I have said things in the past that are racist, sexist, or discriminatory. I do not wish to be these things, and I have certainly worked and still work to purge myself of discriminatory thoughts, words, and opinions. I have been lucky to be called out and corrected most of the time when I have said these things, for which I am grateful. When I have been corrected or corrected others, the response has almost always been one of puzzlement. “Was that really sexist? I didn’t think so; this has always seemed completely normal to me” is the general attitude.
You see, when we are raised in a given culture, we see, for better or for worse, that culture and its components as being normal and natural. Like a teenager who gets used to a room that smells of dirty socks, we become blind to things which aren’t really all that good. Because of the similarity of school cultures and upbringings, I think it is reasonable to assume that Judge Kavanaugh probably had these same blind spots growing up, and I am sure some of these blind spots have persisted well past high school into his adult life. I do not think Mr. Kavanaugh lies, but I certainly think it is possible that he does not have the same understanding of situations that, say, a woman might have.
In the course of his testimonies, Mr. Kavanaugh has admitted that he drank in high school, sometimes heavily. He claims that he never drank to the point of blacking out, but one does not have to be blacked out for alcohol to affect one’s memory. As such, I am not convinced that his claim of never drinking to the point of blacking out can be considered a reasonable defense that because he does not remember any such misconduct, he cannot have done anything.
In discussions of sexual assault and/or misconduct, before Judge Kavanaugh was a blip on our collective radar, I originally said that we should not believe the accuser outright; however, my understanding of this has changed over the years, particularly through conversations with women who have suffered such mistreatment. I was blind to the experiences of women and blind to the effects of assault or harassment on a person’s psyche. I have learned that, in ways unlike most other crimes, sexual assault or rape can do horrible, unthinkable things to a person’s psyche, not to mention physical harm.
A violation like that is something that changes you. It is not something you forget or can ignore. So, when women come forward with allegations of sexual assault or misconduct, they are demonstrating a certain kind of bravery most of us men will never be able to understand. Furthermore, such allegations are, most often, without evidence. This is mostly due to the nature of the crime.
It’s truly impossible to prove most allegations, but that should not mean they ought to be dismissed, for it is far more likely that they are true than they are false. Wildly so. Whatever adjective you decide to use, the fact is that false accusations of sexual misconduct are exceedingly rare.
Like voter fraud, they are a profoundly rare occurrence held up as a bogeyman to prevent any real discussion or to advance a goal, such as voter suppression. Because the prevalence of sexual assault or harassment (most women I have talked to say they have many stories of such and say that everyone they know also has many stories) and the rarity of false accusations, I am inclined to believe the accuser in this situation. Why? Because this isn’t something shared by a woman without profound courage and great personal risk. Because it’s almost never a lie.
Why is coming forward such a brave action? Because in eight out of ten cases, the victim knew the perpetrator. When the victim knows the perpetrator, generally their friends know this man and possibly even the victim’s family knows this man, perhaps even the man’s family knows the victim. Coming forward with accusations, therefore, can be incredibly destabilizing to the woman’s social circle and her support network, potentially putting her at further mental risk in the process of dealing with the assault.
Furthermore, when a woman comes forward with allegations and is disbelieved, as is often the case, especially when she knows the man who assaulted her, she is seen as a liar and loses all credibility in the eyes of those who know her. When only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will ever see the inside of a prison for what they have done and women are saddled with the burden of proof, we prevent justice from being done for the woman and instead uphold the conditions which allow an assault to go unpunished in the first place.
Is it possible to make mistakes? Of course. It will always be possible to get the wrong guy. But given the choice between the one in a million chance of getting the wrong guy and the likelihood that the accused is guilty, I am willing to err on the side of prosecuting the man.
This is a difference of scale. The fact of the matter is that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. One in three will be sexually assaulted. 63% of sexual assaults are not reported. Of those crimes reported, studies estimate between 2 and 10 percent may be false, with most studies below 5%. Every 98 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted. (Stats from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network)
Sexual assault is a constant, gruesome, cruel, and terrifying reality for many thousands of women, and I will not withhold justice from these millions of women because a man might get wrongly accused every once in a while. This is the same idea that you should not give to charity because some people might take advantage, or that we seniors should not go to our Wednesday Service because not everyone we meet will be grateful.
Any time a system exists, there will always be someone who attempts to take advantage of it. How many of you have taken two or three or more servings of food that you knew you wouldn’t eat? Would you be willing to completely do away with lunch at school just because someone took too many wings? I certainly hope not. In the same way, I sincerely hope none of you would be willing to prevent justice and healing for women savagely dehumanized by sexual assault.
If we sit and decide that accusations of sexual assault or harassment shall not be considered without what might be considered a smoking gun, we do a profound and morally unacceptable injustice to women everywhere. I, for one, cannot abide to dismiss accusations of sexual assault because they might not be true. Think of all the women you know in your life. Now think of those numbers above. One in five. One in three.
Now, back to Dr. Ford. Given the slander and insults and belittling and threats levied against her, given the immense courage and immense personal struggle it takes to go public with this, and given the pain, she must relive, I cannot doubt for a moment the validity of her accusations.
So what really happened? In truth, we will never know. But, we can be reasonably sure that something happened between those two, something that would never be written down in a calendar.
My thesis is that Mr. Kavanaugh probably did assault this woman, but that he never understood as such at the time, and, over the years, has forgotten or not fully understood the implications of his actions.
Boys will be boys. This is the most heinous defense I have heard for dismissing sexual assault. Basically, boys are gonna misbehave, so why worry? Nonsense. “Boys will be boys” only makes sense when a 5-year-old makes a mud pie and throws it at his best friend, not when a nearly grown man sexually assaults a woman.
This sickening perversion of childhood play teaches young boys that it’s okay to violate a woman, because hey, boys will be boys. This is no excuse because it is actually very easy to not sexually assault a woman; it’s a simple process men our age absolutely should be able to master.
So, should ‘youthful mistakes’ (using that phrase to describe sexual assault leaves a sour taste in my mouth) follow this man into his adult life? Yes. Unequivocally yes. Especially if this man is to sit on the Supreme Court.
In our current justice system, young men are arrested for possession of small quantities of marijuana, for which they can often be charged with a felony and imprisoned for many years. As a result, their lives are ruined. Some of the most important years of their lives are spent in prison; then, when they get out, they struggle to find a job or housing and cannot even vote.
If smoking a little pot can follow you throughout the rest of your life, so should sexual assault. Mind you, Judge Kavanaugh’s life cannot be ruined quite so thoroughly at this point, and I really don’t think it should, just as I don’t think smoking a little pot should have the potential to ruin your life. But, it should at least bar this man from sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States.
I would like to remind you at this point that this is no trial. There is no judge, no jury, and no sentencing. What Kavanaugh is currently undergoing is nothing more than a very public job interview for one of the most powerful positions in our government.
This man will have the power, for the rest of his life until such a time as he should die or decide to retire, to influence greatly public policy and the culture of the United States. Potentially, this man could be making decisions that impact the lives of women, and, if these allegations have any truth whatsoever to them, this clearly creates an issue. If Judge Kavanaugh has problems respecting the rights of women or even just ascribing to them their full dignity, then he should absolutely not sit on the Court, for that clearly prevents him from being the impartial judge he ought to be as intended in the structure of the Court.
There are wider considerations than just “Did this man sexually assault a woman in high school.” I am sure no one has any illusions about that fact. This is, of course, the next in a series of confrontations as our society is learning to deal with the inhuman monstrosity that is sexual assault. And, if the validity of the accusations were not enough to bar this man from sitting on the Supreme Court, the potentially damaging messages his appointment could send certainly should.
As I said earlier, we can never really know the truth of the allegations, and, because of that, I am not entirely sure that should matter. If your feathers have yet to be ruffled, I imagine this will ruffle them. I believe in justice, truth, fairness, and all that jazz, but, in considering the wider social impact of what his appointment could cause, the truth of whether or not Kavanaugh assaulted this woman is irrelevant. Why? Because all the discourse surrounding this mess has already coalesced into a handful of basic messages and defenses. Like a fuse sets off a bomb, this has snowballed far beyond its original proportions. It is no longer a woman accusing a man of sexual assault. It is now the most significant example of the greater conflict in our society that has been brewing over the last decade, particularly with the #MeToo movement.
What are we teaching the young people of this age if we confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court? We are teaching them that sexual assault by young men is something easily dismissed with a wave of the hand and a sigh. We are teaching them that it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We are teaching young women and girls that their word is not as good as a man’s. We are teaching them that they would be better off staying quiet in the face of violence. None of these messages are morally tenable positions, but all follow from the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
By the way, eight women were sexually assaulted in the time it took you to read this.