Kavanaugh and men's sexual assault hypocrisy

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One of my closest friends was raped when she was eight years old. The perpetrator was a boy who lived next door to her. He was 16.

Donald Trump puts his hand on Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh's shoulder during his ceremonial swearing in in the East Room of the White House on 8 October 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)She didn't tell anyone about the attack until she was much older. Even when she confided in me, while we were students, she was still fraught about hauling an event that had occurred around 12 years earlier into the present. It was only much, much later, when she had become a mother herself, that she told her own mother what had happened when she was a child.

Such is the power that rapists and sexual abusers hold over their victims, that they can continue to silence them years after the event has occurred, and decades after they last set eyes on them. And so pervasive is the shame and blame directed at sexual assault victims rather than on their attackers that they have traditionally been dissuaded from coming forward.

It never would have occurred to me to disbelieve my friend's story. She probably couldn't remember what she was wearing that day and what she'd eaten for breakfast. It's doubtful she had any recollection of the colour of the neighbours' front door, or the name of her attacker's siblings (the neighbouring families were friends). But when it came to the attack itself, she had total recall; it was seared into her psyche in all its acute, horrific, indelible detail.

Perhaps it's this profound, personal experience of sexual attacks — or the awareness that it could so easily happen to them — that has caused such an outpouring of support among women for Dr Christine Blasey Ford.

The psychologist's allegations of sexual assault against the US's newly-installed Supreme Court justice are believable to us precisely because they are so common. If it hasn't happened to us, it has happened to someone we know. Blasey Ford's testimony is universal, her recall of the behaviour of enabled, drunken teenage boys (and men) all too familiar.

Moreover, rape is such an egregious violation that it would feel anathema to most women to falsely claim it: after all, we have fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; we weigh carefully the irreconcilable gap between the men who love us and those who hurt us. We hold a dim view of women who cry wolf, for they diminish the claim to justice of every genuine assault victim.

 

"The death threats and abuse Blasey Ford has received only serve to reinforce the hostility women face when they challenge powerful men."

 

The statistics bear out this fact: reputable studies indicate that the rate of false sexual assault claims is between two and six per cent. Therefore, between 94 and 98 per cent of women who claim they were raped are telling the truth. It's highly probable, therefore, that Blasey Ford was telling the truth, but the male-designed, male-heavy establishment has refused to listen to her.

Where many men saw a woman smearing the name of an apparently upstanding member of the legal fraternity, many more women saw a successful professional putting her life and reputation on the line in order to expose the harm done by a man being considered for one of the country's highest offices. As Blasey Ford says, she felt it was her civic duty to testify against him. The death threats and abuse she has received as a result only serve to reinforce the hostility women face when they challenge powerful men.

The abuse also exposes the hypocritical dichotomy straddled by the men who either sexually assault women or who dismiss their stories while simultaneously appearing to shepherd their own wives and daughters through a world in which such attacks are common. Would Donald Trump be amused if he heard men bragging about their right to grab his daughters' genitals? Would male members of congress disbelieve the claim of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh if it was one of their own family members making it?

Ultimately, perhaps most telling in all of this is the way in which political office bearers adopted the role of judge and jury — and swiftly acquitted the 'defendent' in order to elevate him to high office. Yet Kavanaugh was not being tried in public for a crime; he was in fact being vetted for a job — a process which, as often happens, unearthed several adverse references.

Despite serious reservations about his character (including numerous claims by female lawyers that they were advised to dress a certain way to increase their chances of gaining a clerkship with him), he has been appointed to the highest court in the US. For the rest of his life, he will stand in judgment on cases that call for the highest moral integrity.

The only succour from this debacle comes from the tight contestation of this vote; women (and their male allies) have seen exactly how powerful men go about advancing themselves with each others' help; they see how the stringent norms governing most people's lives are not applied to those in power. And they're not going to stand for it any longer.

 

 

Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

 

 

 

Main image: Donald Trump puts his hand on Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh's shoulder during his ceremonial swearing in in the East Room of the White House on 8 October 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, Brett Kavanaugh, sexual assault

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks Catherine for a good article! I heard Blasey Ford tell about the abuse and I was convinced she was telling the truth. As for Trump, who bragged about grabbing women's genitals, I'm not surprised he supports this Republican judge for the Supreme Court as I don't see him as having much integrity at all. I guess it would be harder now to impeach Trump!
Grant Allen | 10 October 2018


Why have US Supreme Court appointments become so contentious? Because if one could not rely on the duly elected legislature to pass “progressive” measures, then unelected judges might be used instead: In 1962 prayer was ruled illegal in public schools (Engel v Vitale); in 1963, although permitted for 180 years, it was Bible readings (Abbington v Schempp); in 1973 a Right of Privacy was invented to justify abortion (Roe v Wade); in 2015 same-sex marriage was legalised (Obergefell v Hodges) which the Chief Justice called “an act of will, not legal judgment.” The Democratic Party has shown it will go to any lengths to protect this extra-legislative power: In 1987 Ted Kennedy defamed Robert Bork; in 1991 Clarence Thomas was falsely accused of sexual impropriety, which he termed a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks”. As soon as Justice Kennedy retired, Leftists advocated that Democrats stack the court with 11 justices come the next presidential term so they can implement their agenda by fiat. Is this about protecting women? Just last August, Keith Ellison, the deputy chair of the DNC, was accused of physically and emotionally abusing his girlfriend—and days later Ellison won the Democratic primary for Minnesota’s Attorney General.
Ross Howard | 10 October 2018


When something incredulous happens, something from left field we exclaim "I don't believe it!". Many, many women on hearing Christine Blasey Ford's testimony did not say that. Instead they exclaimed "I believe it".
Pam | 11 October 2018


“Would male members of congress disbelieve the claim of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh if it was one of their own family members making it?” They should if they believed in the principle that the presumption of innocence can only be rebutted by proper evidence. Principles precede people, the reason for the paradox being that without principles, people don’t matter.
roy chen yee | 11 October 2018


For me, what is so egregious about this case is the same as I my own, the refusal of those in power, his peers, and equally importantly those who are or who have been mutual friends of the perpetrator and the victim / survivor, to believe and support the person targeted, the victim / survivor. In my own case my entire moderately large friendship base bar one person, a friendship base who were either mutual friends or acquaintances of the perpetrator, albeit still in lesser power to him, have abandoned their lifelong friendship with me. So not only does a victim who speaks out lose their career or risk losing their career, they lose or risk losing their friends, their one time support group. This is what is so egregious. We have not heard about all the friends and support group Ford will have lost. That was never reported in my case either. The power of men in authority and power is so great that it can turn lifelong friends against each other. Were they ever really friends? That is a question to ask, the strength of friendship when truth speaks to power. This is what lives with women who speak out, every day.
Jennifer Herrick | 12 October 2018


Thanks Catherine for this article. Is it any wonder women don't come forward when they receive such hatred. And now, it could be strongly argued, the US has a supreme court judge who has just lied in public and who will continue to judge?? I am also left to wonder why another male in the comment section argues against what seems to me to be blindingly obvious? Why don't some men get it?
Tom Kingston | 12 October 2018


Thank you Catherine for expressing a view that many of us, men included, hold. Absolutely sickening but oh so true. Powerful men use their positions to silence those whom they have violated . Trump himself is s similar case only he openly boasted about it and still was elected! What is the world coming to?
Gavin O'Brien | 12 October 2018


Because Tom, what you and others are asking for is mob-rule. Without the rule of Law based on corroborative evidence and presumption of innocence then our civilisation is existentially at risk.
Eugene | 12 October 2018


Thanks Catherine for your article and also for those who have responded. I share the disgust at any case of sexual abuse. The article and comments neglect that the accuser did not remember the attack until years later. This suggests acceptance of a repressed memory surfacing. The research of numerous PHDs shows how easy it is to develop false memories. It is also the case that the literature has not revealed a single case of a person who survived the holocaust failing to remember what he or she went through. It behoves us all to be aware that false memories do occur. May I also point out that the passion or distress of a person claiming that they have been abused is not evidence that it has occurred.
Grahame Forrest | 12 October 2018


This article is totally misleading. I agree rape is an egregious crime. Cavanagh was accused of groping not rape. Thus, your journalist has tried to mislead.
Irene Dixon | 12 October 2018


Ross Howard, yes it was the "leftists" in the form of Franklin Roosvelt who tried to stack the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937, not 2018. This is because he was up against a very consteravtive Court who sequentially dismanted his "New Deal" and other reforms necessary to overcome the Great Depression 1929-39. (This arguably extended the length of the Depression). Roosevelt was advised against it and it didn't happen. No U.S. president since then has tried to manipulate the U.S. Supreme Court - until now.
Bruce Stafford | 12 October 2018


Catherine, you are playing judge, jury and executioner. Except, you have already decided that Kavanaugh is guilty.
Peter Flood | 12 October 2018


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