Confirming Kavanaugh: a message to survivors

By confirming Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the United States has shown little regard for survivors of sexual assault.


One day after a highly emotional and contentious hearing on Sept. 27, President Donald Trump authorized an FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against now-Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

Despite the allegations and the investigation that followed, Kavanaugh was confirmed on Saturday in a 50-48 vote.

It is surprising that many senators still supported Kavanaugh enough to vote him into this powerful position after hearing Ford’s powerful testimony. I find this deeply disturbing. It demonstrates uncomfortable truths about our culture.

Ford’s alleged high school trauma is similar to that of Anita Hill, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 1991 about being sexually harassed by then-Judge Clarence Thomas, who currently serves as a justice on Supreme Court. Hill never received the glory of taking down her alleged abuser, and neither did Ford. The message to sexual misconduct survivors in America is loud and clear: people will not believe you were assaulted or try to hold your attacker accountable.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation shows the U.S. doesn’t take sexual assault seriously. In fact, our leaders have accepted an alleged assaulter into the highest court in America.

Brad Windhauser, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies and English professor, was concerned about our country’s outward lack of understanding of survivors and acceptance of rape culture surrounding the hearing.

“CNN interviewed some female Trump supporters…about these allegations, and one of these women said, ‘What 17-year-old boy hasn’t done this stuff?’” Windhauser said. “The notion that one woman would say that, suggesting that’s how it should be, just shows how messed up the messages [about sexual assault]…are in this country.”

Rebecca Alpert, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies and religion professor, said she’s surprised Kavanaugh had support from the Republican Party because his behavior “should be abhorrent to them.” 

And it’s misleading that a party often preaching morality would stand behind someone facing such serious allegations.

Ford should’ve had both parties backing her, if not for her alleged trauma, then for her credibility and grace. She is a professor of psychology and a research psychologist at Palo Alto University and Stanford University in California, and she kept her composure — unlike the man she was accusing — with the world watching the hearing. If our country can’t even support or believe a woman of such excellence, then it’s no wonder most sexual assaults go unreported. This message is intimidating.

Joyce Joyce, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies and English professor, said the lack of diversity in the Senate could be to blame. 

Only 23 women hold seats in the Senate. Of those women, three are Black and five are Hispanic or Latinx. There are five women in the 21 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the committee’s website.

“It is very problematic that most of the senators are old, white men,” Joyce said. 

She added that “old white men” are not typically the people who understand how sexual assault affects a person.

But the problem isn’t limited to men. Joyce said it includes the behavior of conservative women in the Senate. 

“These women, like [Maine Republican Sen. Susan] Collins, who are hesitating in believing what Ford has to say, they’re actually the ones who are brainwashed by a party line,” Joyce added. 

It is highly concerning how partisan politics interfered with this decision-making process. A serious accusation like this shouldn’t have been swept under the rug because people would rather stay loyal to the Republican Party than acknowledge that sexual assault is a traumatic crime.

Windhauser said many Republican senators had already decided to vote to confirm Kavanaugh before hearing Ford speak. 

“When the senators say, ‘I’ve already made my vote,’ then what’s the point of the testimony?” Windhauser said. “How can you discount what’s coming out of her mouth when you haven’t heard what it is? … Women throughout history have had zero incentive to come out about these things. Not only do they not gain, they actually lose.”

Ford had nothing to gain and absolutely everything to lose. She and her family had to move from their home, and she had to relive her trauma on live television. 

For any elected official to be so concerned about their political alignment that they are willing to disregard the testimony of a survivor is an incredible act of disrespect, both to that person and to this country.

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