Kavanaugh in the #MeToo Era
In the wake of the revelation of Christine Blasey Ford’s identity, some have suggested that her allegation against Brett Kavanaugh will be handled more sensitively than such accusations once were thanks to the #MeToo movement. That may turn out to be true, but only if at least one other woman comes forward with similar charges.
#MeToo gave courage to women, and some men, to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse. It helped to clarify that gross sexual misconduct is not a perk of power. It revived a sense of shame. Whereas for too long, many women felt powerless in the face of this abuse, the movement offered strength in numbers. Once one victim of a brutish man found her voice, others summoned the courage to come forward.
And there were always others. The high-profile men felled by #MeToo: Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers Jr., Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Bill O'Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Roger Ailes, and others faced accusations from multiple victims. That’s the way such men are. They’re predators. Few of the accused even denied the allegations.
In this sense, the #MeToo movement was different from the message “rape culture” activists have cultivated on college campuses. Often, their slogan is “believe all women.” Why would a woman lie about something like that, knowing that her character is likely to be sullied?
Well, most women don’t lie about rape, but some do. The student accuser in the Rolling Stone account of a rape at the University of Virginia fabricated the whole story. She may have been seeking attention or sympathy, or she may have had emotional problems. Emma Sulkowicz, who gained fame dragging a mattress around Columbia University, probably lied about her experience. The university apologized to the man she accused. A Hofstra University student claimed to have been gang raped, but a cellphone video showed otherwise. She was apparently attempting to deceive her boyfriend about her whereabouts. The Scottsboro Boys became the most famous falsely accused men in American history because white girls on a train during the Depression didn’t want to admit being friendly with black boys.
So, yes, women are human and flawed and sometimes dishonest. That’s important to keep in mind in any dispute. Another woman in this tale, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, reeks of bad faith. She has had this information since July but held it until one week before the vote. She says she didn’t reveal it earlier, not even in closed session, because Ford wasn’t willing to disclose her identity. Yet Feinstein released the existence of the accusation on Friday, two days before Ford went public.
The Kavanaugh accusation has other complications.
Memories fade with the passage of time. It has been 36 years. Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t recall key details about the encounter, such as the year it happened or the house where it took place. She told no one at the time (which doesn’t mean she’s lying, only that corroboration is absent). She may have him confused with someone else. According to Ford’s account, Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge locked her in a room. Kavanaugh had pinned her on the bed using his body weight and was tearing at her clothes. When she tried to scream, he covered her mouth. Judge then allegedly jumped on top of both of them. In the jumble, she was able to free herself. She says she locked herself in a bathroom until the boys stumbled down the stairs. Judge may not have a perfect memory — he has acknowledged trouble with alcohol — but he told The Weekly Standard, “It’s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way.”
There is also the question of responsibility. Is 17 too young to be held accountable for such behavior? It’s a close call, but in the end, it’s a question of character. It’s possible to imagine a 17-year-old behaving like a lout and then regretting it deeply and becoming a pillar of society. And it’s possible that a teenaged abuser was just getting started on a career of assault.
Kavanaugh issued a blanket denial: “This is a completely false accusation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or anyone.” If he’s innocent, that’s obviously right and necessary. If he were guilty, and reformed, the awful act itself might be forgivable, if he acknowledged guilt. And if, God forbid, he’s lying, his entire reputation as a man of integrity totters.
This is why it’s crucial to see whether this accusation is a one-off or part of a pattern. Everything we know about Kavanaugh — from his friends, colleagues, students and community — suggests that that he is not just a good guy but an extraordinarily generous and upright person. He coaches girls’ basketball. He volunteers at homeless shelters. He’s a good husband. He tutors needy kids. He does minority outreach for law school students. He attends church.
Maybe it’s all a charade, but we should be loath to draw that conclusion without at least one more woman stepping up to recount a similar experience. Absent that, his whole adult life tips the scales far more than one uncorroborated accusation.
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