The part I am most concerned with is not the truth of the matter: Brett Kavanaugh did or did not sexually assault Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. A whole different article could be written on why to believe Dr. Ford. I am most concerned with the responses of senators, reporters, American people and the president of the United States. Here’s a new headline for you: “President mocks a survivor: people cheer.” You may be surprised. I am not.
This week, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) let down thousands of women and countless survivors in Maine and in the nation, but disconcertingly, I’m not sure I can villainize her. I have listened to her explain one of the most bipartisan political philosophies in Congress today and have watched her cross party-lines on crucial issues. I do not believe her to be evil. Instead, what is her fault is also the fault of a society that encourages its leaders to vote against justice in a sexual assault investigation. Senator Collins did not go against the grain; she capitulated to an ideology stronger than any one person, one that infiltrates and underlies our country, one that devalues survivorship.
Judge Kavanaugh epitomizes this ideology; he consistently calls the accusations “absurd.” If I get across one thing, let it be that the reality of sexual assault is not absurd. The fact that a woman can be traumatized for decades of her life after being attacked, yet not feel supported enough to speak out, is not absurd. The committee chair said, “We were fair to Dr. Ford, why should we not do the same for Judge Kavanaugh?” I completely agree with the premise of hearing all sides fairly to pursue justice, but this statement gets garbled in the language of mainstream rape culture and becomes a sympathy call for Kavanaugh.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) did not hide his sympathy. In an outburst that I can imagine would be excruciating for any survivor—let alone anyone with a moral compass—to watch, he lauded Kavanaugh’s lack of “biases or prejudices.” He called the hearing a legitimization of “the most despicable thing” and told the judge that “you have nothing to apologize for.”
Now, back up. Graham has no idea (with any basis in fact) whether or not Kavanaugh has ever sexually assaulted anyone. Therefore, he essentially contended that, whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is a perpetrator, he should not apologize. This may seem exaggerated, but it is in line with current American rhetoric on assault. The “boys will be boys” philosophy has worked its way straight into a Senate committee hearing regarding a seat on the highest court in the country.
President Trump fits right into this picture. It only took 40 seconds of watching his reaction to practically bring me to tears. He stands at a podium, looking smug, and repeats the phrase “I don’t know” to mock Dr. Ford. Supporters smile. They yell and hold up signs that say, “Women for Trump.” They revel in the fact that their commander in chief is unfiltered enough to explicitly condone rape culture. I felt, at points, like nothing could halt Kavanaugh’s appointment. In reality, an objective investigation could have. Instead, as Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) contends, the report was grossly incomplete, though it has placated a majority of senators. The pursuit of justice for survivors yet again has been stopped short and then called enough.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) claimed that the democratic system has lost its “decency” in these proceedings. I would agree, but for an opposite reason. He was infuriated that Kavanaugh could even be accused of such things. I am outraged that Kavanaugh could get away with such things. “You’ll come out on the right side of that decision,” he said. Translation: the senator expected the public and more importantly, the Senate, to once again side with powerful men. “The burden is not on you to disprove,” he assured. These beliefs represent a fatal flaw in our system’s ability to deal with sexual misconduct. The issue is not that we hold an innocent-until-proven-guilty standard; the issue is that “proven guilty” looks so different in the case of sexual assault. We have not figured out how to make it fair. We have allowed classically masculine values of objectivity and confidence and rigidity to infuse our understanding of a crime that is deeply intimate, but also profoundly social.
Is it possible that Kavanaugh is innocent? Yes, it’s possible. Is it true that his family has been torn apart and he has suffered some false accusations? Likely. Is it possible that he doesn’t remember or has denied the memory of the assault? Yes. But to give into these possibilities is to deny survivors everywhere the respect, empathy, credibility and attention that they deserve. As long as the burden rests on the survivor, America will never see justice for the majority of assaults.
I write this because I am scared. I am scared to be raped. Most women are scared to be raped. And the survivors—men and women—who have experienced assault are scared that they won’t be believed, that their life will be ruined all over again like Dr. Ford’s. I cannot speak as a survivor, or for survivors. I cannot speak as anyone who might know the truth about Kavanaugh’s accused assault. I cannot speak as a senator or the president of the United States. I speak as an outraged, disappointed and terrified woman in America. Unfortunately, voices like mine carry much less weight than voices of men like President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh.
Anna Martens is a member of the class of 2020.