The Senate confirmation hearings of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have turned into a controversy that may well trump the Anita Hill Hearings. Anita Hill is, of course, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of engaging in sexual harassment when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. While Thomas overcame Hill’s accusations to win political confirmation, shifting cultural attitudes amid the so-called “MeToo” social media movement may well mean Kavanaugh’s confirmation will be derailed as he struggles to push back against sexual assault allegations made by California professor and former classmate Christine Blasey Ford. There is, however, one key difference between Thomas and Kavanaugh beyond social text that deserves a thorough analysis. Clarence Thomas was a legal professional when he allegedly harassed Anita Hill; whereas, Kavanaugh was a teenager when he allegedly assaulted Ford.
The fact that Kavanaugh has earned public scorn for actions he allegedly committed in 1982 demonstrates how much progress has been made by advocates for sexual harassment and assault. Not only have the American People learned to empathize with victims of sexual harassment and assault, they are willing to hold victimizers accountable, even if their crimes took place decades ago. This is a very important victory that should not be overlooked. With that in mind, it is very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that sexual harassment and assault occurred when a case is current. It is far harder for much older cases. Although causes of rape where DNA can be used to prove clearly non-conceptual encounters occurred can be solved, countless incidents of sexual harassment and assault stretching back into the mid-Twentieth Century will likely never be proven one way or the other.
For victims, the very act of simply sharing their experiences can, however, be both therapeutic and empowering. Verbalizing or writing about a traumatic experience can empower a victim, so it is understandable why women like Ford would want to come forward, even years later, about their experiences. Decades ago, as well as today in the minds of those who trivialize sex, sexual harassment and assault were often seen as the actions of playful young men. There are plenty of people who still dismiss the impact of sex crimes on victims, but sexual harassment and assault are serious wrongs. Because sexual harassment and assault are such serious issues, false allegation of sexual harassment and assault are just as serious to the falsely accused. Not only can false accusations hurt someone on a personal and professional level, the fallout can cause the accused serious psychological harm, especially when such allegations attract the condemnations of society. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault must, therefore, be addressed in a careful and objective manner, not judged on the emotional performance of the accusers and the accused.
In the case of Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, it is very difficult to prove anything. Unless Kavanaugh has demonstrated a pattern of sexual harassment and assault over his lifetime, he is not likely to be held culpable. Assuming Kavanaugh did sexually assault Ford, both were teenagers at the time. Even though age does not excuse Kavanaugh’s alleged actions nor disqualify the harm done to Ford, young people make mistakes. Ford was a victim of whoever assaulted her and the social attitudes that casually dismissed the plight of females facing sexual harassment and assault. As a victim, she deserves both justice and the opportunity to be made whole. Holding Kavanaugh accountable for his actions as a teenage is, however, a different story. People make mistakes, especially when they are maturing. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt other more than they can fully comprehend. It is, partially, why crimes have statuses of limitation and why people are placed in penitentiaries to repay their debt to society by undergoing reform.
If Kavanaugh did knowingly sexual assault Ford, or any other person, and he is lying about it, what that shows is Kavanaugh is more concerned about his social standing than truth and justice. That is a problem for a Supreme Court justice nominee. Had a sexual encounter between Ford and Kavanaugh occurred, Kavanaugh may have been too intoxicated to recall it or he may have viewed his aggressive sexual engagement as welcomed by Ford. If so, Kavanaugh needs to be more forthcoming and honest. Kavanaugh either sexually assaulted Ford or he is the victim of a political conspiracy to derail his nomination. If he did wrong, he needs to embrace that wrong and show that he has grown as a person since his teenage years. Frankly, both have merit given the ongoing political war to upend the ideological balance of the Supreme Court and the hatred of Donald trump. No matter the circumstances, however, Kavanaugh needs to be willing to accept the fact that Ford feels like she was wronged, even if he feels like he did no wrong.
People do wrong. When they can admit to the wrongs they have committed against others and show they have matured beyond the mindset that compelled them to hurt their victims, healing and forgiveness is possible. For that reason, the Ford allegations are not necessarily enough to disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court. His failure to grow and empathize is. What is more alarming than the Ford accusation is the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had allegedly been selecting law clerks based on their physical appearance and sexual appeal. While law professors who aided in this alleged recruitment scheme have denied allegations, the reality that Brett Kavanaugh had been sexually targeting young women as a professional would far more troubling than allegations of sexual assault from his teen years. Not only would the act of recruiting female clerks based on their sexual appeal be a thorough abuse of power, this “grooming” would be the behavior of a sexual predator. That would be more than enough to disqualify Kavanaugh from serving on the US Supreme Court or holding any public office.
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