For the last few weeks, the United States of America has been gripped by one of the most enthralling political sagas in its history. The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been highly contentious, even before allegations of sexual assault emerged. In the last week, the world heard testimony from one of the women, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who has alleged that Mr Kavanaugh assaulted her back when they were teenagers in high school. Her account was shocking, but what was more astounding was the response from a number of prominent politicians, including the President, who discounted her testimony and attempted to push through Kavanaugh’s nomination regardless.
With the #MeToo movement still fresh in the minds of many, one would think that an allegation of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee would be taken seriously by those involved. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Rather than being treated with respect and as if she is telling the truth by, Dr Ford is being treated as a liar, who is making baseless allegations. The reaction by many has been to treat Ford’s claims as trivial and nothing more than a political move to slow down Kavanaugh’s “inevitable” ascension to the Supreme Court. Republican Senator John Cornyn has described the scandal as a “circus” and that this is just “a calculated effort” to delay the voting on Kavanaugh. He also commented that the Democrats “obstruct, delay and deny” any nominee that the Trump administration puts forward for positions in federal government. Cornyn seems to have a selective memory. The Republicans have a history of delaying Democratic nominations for a number of positions. In 2016, Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland was delayed by 10 months as Republicans refused to hold hearings, vote, or even consider Garland’s nomination. This was because Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, preferred the next President to nominate for the position held by the late Antonin Scalia. Republicans hoped that Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential nominee, would be the one to make this crucial decision. Ultimately, Garland’s nomination was delayed and The Donald was sworn in as POTUS, paving the way for Republican favourite Neil Gorsuch to take the position previously held by Scalia.
A number of Republicans and Democrats believed that the timing of Ford’s revelation was somewhat suspect. Why had she waited for so many years before making her allegations against Kavanaugh? Was she trying to delay his nomination until after the mid-terms, hopefully swinging the numbers in favour of the Democrats? These theories have been doing the rounds on a number of forums online; many providing little to no evidence on which to base their allegations on. Even the President questioned why Dr Ford hadn’t reported the alleged assault to the police 36 years ago, a statement which itself explains why she might not have. She isn’t being believed now, so why assume that 36 years ago, when attitudes were arguably worse, that she would been believed then. During her testimony, Dr Ford explained why she hadn’t told the police over three decades ago. She explained in detail how this event changed her life, yet still she is being treated as a liar. Just a quick search on Twitter with the hash-tag, #WhyIDidntReport, highlights the large number of sexual assault victims who haven’t reported their attacks, or even spoken about them until now, and there are a multitude of reasons why. It is clearly not as simple as saying “I was sexually assaulted last night”, there are so many factors that make this a difficult decision and one that many avoid altogether.
Another shocking turn in the Kavanaugh nomination is that despite these allegations being made against the judge, Senate Judicial Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley did not want an investigation to be carried out in regards to the assault claims. An enquiry wasn’t even on the cards until Senator Jeff Flake, who had earlier been confronted by sexual assault victims after backing Kavanaugh, called for an investigation by the FBI before he would vote for Kavanaugh’s nomination. This created a furore as Republicans claimed this would delay the Senate vote. However, you can argue, that if they ‘know’ Kavanaugh is innocent, then they have nothing to worry about. On this note, if the FBI investigation doesn’t find any evidence of assault – which would likely be very difficult after such a time without many ‘victims’, Donald Trump will explode with smugness and no doubt, we’ll never hear the end of it.
Kavanaugh’s reaction to being questioned, highlighted why he may not be suitable for the role for which he has been nominated. When being quizzed by Democratic members of the Judicial Committee, Kavanaugh was aggressive, hostile and frequently avoided direct questions. This is not behaviour fitting of any judge, least not one that hopes to have a place on the Supreme Court. Although, it’s not surprising that he’s a Trump nominee, many of his behavioural traits have been the hallmark of Trump’s presidency, perhaps Trump he sees himself in Kavanaugh and this may have been what drew him to consider Kavanaugh in the first place. In recent days, Kavanaugh’s drinking habits have also been brought to light, with many reports highlighting that he used to get habitually drunk whilst at college, and lied about his relationship with alcohol while under oath. A contemporary of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, Professor Charles Ludington, said ʺunequivocallyʺ that Judge Kavanaugh ʺhas not told the truthʺ about whether he drank enough to black out. Ludington backs up this claim by commenting that ʺI never saw him passed out but I saw him quite drunkʺ. There are statements to the contrary, but this relationship with alcohol cannot be ignored, and must be investigated further by the FBI.
The Thing Is that, it’s easy when discussing the last week or so to get lost in the mire of topics such as the political impact or the intentions of those involved. However, at the root of this scandal, is a woman who has been sexually assaulted; the consequences of which have affected her throughout her adult life. We must not forget the human aspect of this story. We must not lose sight of the other victims that have come forward and told their accounts of assault. These women have shown incredible strength in confronting their assaulter, made even more difficult by the nature of the environment in which they have come out. Hopefully, these women will not be used as political pawns in a larger game, and their allegations are treated with the severity they deserve.
Unfortunately, despite these claims of sexual assault, Kavanaugh is getting closer and closer to a seat on the Supreme Court. This highlights a much deeper and endemic problem within American society and politics, although this is not isolated to just the US – it is a worldwide issue, sadly one that has become all too clear over the last few years. It says to women, that if they suffer atrocious behaviour at the hands of men in power, even when they are brave enough to tell their story, they are disregarded as ‘crazy’ ramblings by disgruntled women. This just cannot stand, and hopefully, sooner rather than later, things will change and women can tell their stories of sexual assault and be believed from the outset, this will only happen if we make a difference now. Women shouldn’t have to be able to tell stories of their assault, it shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Basic human decency should prevail, and sexual assault shouldn’t be a thing.
More positively, the Kavanaugh scandal has brought the topic of sexual assault back into the limelight. Recently, it has drifted away from being front page news, seen during the heady days at the beginning of the #MeToo movement. The story of sexual assault survivors has been heavily discussed across many platforms, bringing with it a renewed desire for change. Hopefully, this will lead to the subject being discussed more openly by politicians, and steps being made to allow victims to speak out against their attackers and seek justice, and help others. .
It’s entirely possible Kavanaugh will be elected to the Supreme Court and that the truth about these allegations will emerge in years to come. This could be incredibly destructive for the reputation of the US Judicial and political system. If in the future, it turns out that the allegations against Kavanaugh were true, the integrity of the Supreme Court will be damaged as well as the process for electing Supreme Court judges. There is the potential for a man who may have sexually assaulted at least three women to hold one of the most powerful seats in the United States, luckily for Kavanaugh, the man who nominated him understands the pressure that brings.