Brett Kavanaugh’s lifetime nomination to the Supreme Court was previously deemed to be guaranteed, until allegations of sexual misconduct plummeted the future of the United States into uncertainty.
On September 27th, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and claimed that she is one-hundred percent certain that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a houseparty in 1982. Two women have accused President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct, including Yale graduate Deborah Ramirez, who claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dormitory party during their college years.
President Trump quickly took to Twitter, calling the allegations a “Total sham,” and labelling Kavanaugh’s testimony as “Powerful, honest, and riveting.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the hearing “The most unethical sham since [he’s] been in politics” and “The most despicable thing [he’s] ever seen.” Kavanaugh himself fiercely defended his innocence, repeatedly dodging questions and referring to himself as the victim of an “Orchestrated political hit.” The general consensus among the Republican Party is that Dr. Ford, a registered Democrat, fabricated the entire story for political purposes- even though it meant destroying her own life in the process.
The Senate requested an official FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s allegations, and only then will they vote on whether or not to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as the nominee. When he was confirmed, it brought the number of justices on the United States Supreme Court who have been accused of sexual misconduct at some point during their careers to a worrying total of two. When Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, she was accused of fabricating her story for political purposes. Twenty-seven years later, nothing has changed.
For survivors of sexual assault, it was extraordinarily frustrating to watch Kavanaugh’s supporters fall victim to the common misconceptions our society has been repeating about sexual assault for decades. Donald Trump, for example, mocked Dr. Ford’s memory at a recent political rally in Ohio. ““How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember,’” Trump parroted. “How did you get there? ‘I don’t remember.’”
However, the gaps in Dr. Ford’s memory, which make it so she doesn’t remember exact dates or locations, is a common symptom of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
According to psychologists, including Dr. Ford herself, the hippocampus begins to encode memories differently once the brain releases hormones signalling stress, fear, or pain. So victims will often remember the attack itself in vivid, searing detail, while the peripheral memories might be quite fragmented.
Prior to his rally, President Trump unsurprisingly took to Twitter to cast doubt on the validity of Dr. Ford’s claims by saying: “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.” Trump, alongside many of Kavanaugh’s other supporters, believes that every woman who is sexually assaulted immediately reports it to police. The #MeToo movement is attempting to deconstruct this fallacy, and in the process has created a new sub-movement: #WhyIDidn’tReport. Within days of Trump’s ignorant tweet, thousands of survivors took to Twitter to explain why they never reported their sexual assaults to the police.
The majority of sexual assaults go unreported due to intense feelings of shame, denial, and fear. And reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement can be equally as traumatizing, particularly when there’s no guarantee the police will take the accusation seriously. Our society’s vicious rhetoric of victim blaming does not help to foster an environment in which women who are victims of sexual violence feel comfortable coming forward to the people who are supposed to protect them.
That’s why the Republican Party’s dismissal of Dr. Ford’s claims has such disturbing implications. Their denial is evident of rape culture pervading the highest levels of the United States government. The Republican Party’s unconditional and unwavering support of Judge Kavanaugh is evident of the same disturbing mentality that saw Donald Trump elected into office- the belief that sexual assault is typical male behavior, and women who speak out against rape culture are inconvenient for politics, and therefore should be silenced and ignored.
So what next? Brett Kavanaugh was indeed confirmed as America’s ninth Supreme Court Justice on the 6th of October 2018, sending a clear message across America, ‘ You can commit a heinous crime and disastrously impact someone’s life and it will not affect your life or career in any way’. In November of 2016, women across the United States watched as men they loved and trusted – their fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends – walked into voting booths to vote for Donald Trump, who bragged about sexually assaulting women prior to election day. Now, they’re watching those same men support Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to a lifelong position, and it begs the question; Does America respect women? Does America value, trust, or care about women? The answer isn’t clear.
Our society’s perception of sexual assault won’t change overnight. The #MeToo movement has been attempting to change the narrative and eliminate the stigma surrounding sexual assault for the past year, and alongside #WhyIDidn’tReport and #IBelieveHer, is offering much needed support to survivors being forced to relive their trauma all over again. As a young American woman, I can only hope that someday our government will stop endangering women for the sake of politics. But unfortunately, Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court is proof that there is still far too much work to be done.