Four myths about sexual assault used to defend Brett Kavanaugh

By Emma Sandri

 

On Oct. 6, 2018 Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court despite numerous allegations of sexual assault and misconduct levied against him.

As the 53-year-old judge took his oath of office in a private ceremony, protesters’ shouts of “no justice, no peace,” could be heard from outside the courthouse.

With 50 republicans and only one democrat voting to confirm, Kavanaugh’s confirmation towed party-lines, with the testimony of his accuser - Dr. Christine Blasey Ford - falling on deaf ears.

While Dr. Ford’s allegations were never proven in court they followed a narrative familiar to many young women - including feelings of fear and panic, followed by shame.

“He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy … I believed he was going to rape me.” -Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Between 15 and 25 per cent of women in North America will experience some form of sexual assault in their college or university academic career, according to the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, it is important to examine the rhetoric used to defend and vote the Supreme Court nominee in.  

If it really happened they would have been arrested

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed,” tweeted President Trump.

Yet most rapes in Canada and the United States are not reported to the police in the first place.

In 2017 alone, it was estimated by Statistics Canada that there were more than 600,000 sexual assaults in Canada. Yet between 2009 and 2014, there were just over 117,000 police-reported sexual assaults.

Victims may choose not report their assaults for a multitude of reasons, including feeling their sexual assault wasn’t important enough to warrant police involvement, fear of retaliation or fear of not being believed.

When the small percentage of victims do report their sexual assault, police may dismiss their allegations as baseless or unfounded.

According to a 2017 report by Statistics Canada, around 14 per cent of sexual assaults were classified by police as unfounded. Of all sexual assaults reported to police - and believed - between 2009 and 2014, only 21 per cent went to court and just 12 per cent lead to a conviction.

Rapists are strangers in dark alleys

“All I can deal with is what’s in front of me. I’ve got a guy who adamantly denies this. Everybody who actually knows him in a real way says, ‘this is not the guy I know’,” said Senator Lindsey Graham during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Kavanaugh.

Whether intentional or not, Graham’s comments play into a dangerous stereotype that sexual assault is committed by a specific type of person.

It is a man, lurking in the dark corner of the club or down a dirty alley, waiting to prey on women who walk alone at night. He is wearing a hoodie; he is carrying a knife.

However, research released in 2017 by Statistics Canada shows that this narrative isn’t true.

In 87 per cent of sexual assaults reported to the police, the victim knew their assailant - they were acquaintances, classmates, friends or spouses.

In two out of three of these reported assaults, victimization occurred on private property - such as in a house or a store. Meaning sexual assault happens in places that are presumed safe by people who are supposed to be trusted.

If they said yes once, it’s yes always

Kavanaugh’s third accuser, Julie Swetnick, said that she had witnessed the Supreme Court nominee attempt to get girls so drunk that they could be raped by a train of numerous boys.

Swetnick also alleged that Kavanaugh was present at party where she was gang-raped in 1982.

On Oct. 2, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a statement detailing the supposed sexual preferences of Swetnick by a former partner. He alleged that Swetnick had admitted to enjoying group sex with multiple men - something she began doing in high school - and described her as an “opportunist.”

Sexual assault takes place whenever consent is not given or is revoked.

As defined by the Canadian Criminal Code, consent cannot be used as a legal defence if one or more of the parties engaged in a sexual encounter was incapable of giving it.

Meaning consent given by a minor or consent obtained by someone who is severely intoxicated is not consent at all.

The Criminal Code also considers an offence sexual assault if a person who had previously consented to engage in sexual activity expressed “by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue.”

In other words, just because a person has said yes before or yes to something else does not mean that they have consented to something now or in the future. Consent takes place on a case-by-case basis; it does not last forever.

A lot of sexual assault claims are false

“What neighbourhood was it in? I don't know. Where's the house? I don't know. Upstairs, downstairs -- where was it? I don't know -- but I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember,” said President Trump at a rally in Mississippi, mocking Dr. Ford’s testimony. “A man’s life is in tatters, a man’s life is shattered.”

While false claims of sexual assault occur, the number is extremely small.

A 2012 study published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in the U.S. found that false allegations of sexual assault occur in only two to 10 per cent of cases.

This number varies widely as published reports do not often make distinctions between which allegations are truly made-up and which allegations simply were deemed “unfounded” or inconsistent by police.

Lack of physical evidence or confusion on the part of a traumatized victim does not necessarily make an allegation of sexual assault false.