Your Neighbor, Brett Kavanaugh

*Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual violence

         “If you double-cross me, I will destroy you.”— Dagny Taggart, Atlas Shrugged

         In life, we often learn to remember information— to retain it, memorize it, and reflect on it. But memories are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they can be a bridge to the past. On the other hand, as years pass and experiences accumulate, memories follow us until we wish we could forget than remember them. 

         I do not personally know Justice Kavanaugh and will not discuss whether he is guilty; that’s not for me to decide. Rather, this article will highlight the implications of his confirmation as Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. His nomination, hearing, and confirmation remind us to reflect on the impact of today’s sexual climate-- to treat Kavanaugh’s case as if it were our own. Sexual assault is a real issue with real people. How we talk about sex-- as both a form of love and violence-- matters.

          After President Trump nominated Brett M. Kavanaugh as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in July 2018, allegations against the nominee emerged. Two women, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting them, leading him and Dr. Ford to testify before Congress. Kavanaugh denied the allegations: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit,” he said. “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never,” he said. In an interview with Fox News, Kavanaugh said, "I had never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever." He added, "I've always treated women with dignity and respect." Meanwhile, Ford had a different story with a contrasting tone. She recalled a party she attended in high school. “...I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn’t see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the door behind them,” she said.  

         Political party affiliations often reflect what people believe. Today, some hail Kavanaugh a hero who survived “grueling harassment” — a “witch hunt”—  by the Democrats. To others, he is a serial sexual assaulter with privilege stamped on his forehead. After the hearing, 54 percent of Democratic men believed Ford, while 57 percent of the Republican men believed Kavanaugh, according to a poll by the National Public Radio (NPR). The contrast in what people believed based on their parties demonstrates politics’ impact on perception of the truth. Sexual assault requires an in-depth investigation and interviews with witnesses who could add to the truth. Instead of spending a lifetime behind bars (no pun intended), Kavanaugh has a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court.

         Sexual assault is violence. It can happen in our neighborhood; it can happen on the other side of the world. A third of women worldwide experience sexual violence in their lifetime, according to UN Women. The organization also reports that in 2015, 23% of female undergraduates had experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct, according to a survey across 27 U.S. universities. But sexual assault is not just a women’s issue because it can happen indiscriminately. Men and non-binary individuals, too, experience sexual assault.

         A moment of abuse can lead to lasting trauma. Survivors often endure much emotional distress before they can recover. “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details,” Ford said. She is not alone. “A lot of the time when I was going through my PTSD and the anxiety and depression that really enveloped me after my assault and especially during and after the trial, I thought I was going crazy,’” said Chessy Prout, an activist who was sexually assaulted at St. Paul’s school, an elite boarding school in New Hampshire, in 2014. Owen Labrie, her assailant, was convicted of sexually assaulting then 15-year old Prout. As a senior, Labrie partook in a school tradition in which “graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before getting their diplomas,” according to the Associated Press via The Guardian. It was a “part of a ritualized game of conquest.” All too often, we hear stories of entitlement and how victims must break barriers to be heard. For victims, this can feel like double trauma. For predators, sexual assault becomes a source of pride. What if the victim was your mother? Your sister? Your daughter? We’re not numbers or objects; we’re human. And you should be, too.

         Although conversations regarding sexual assault are far from over, the #MeToo movement, among many others, have led to further debate and discussion about what sexual assault means. Clarifying misconceptions, creating a safe space for sexual assault survivors, and discussing sexual assault with young adults can make a difference. Today, Kavanaugh’s alma mater, Yale, offers resources and facilities to help students educate themselves about sex and sexual assault. Selected undergraduate students serve as Communication and Consent Educators (CCEs), who are responsible for educating the rest of the student body about what sexual assault entails and what students can do to have safe sex and protect themselves and others from potential assault. In addition, Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education (SHARE) provides counseling to those who wish to learn more about safe sex or have just experienced sexual assault, especially as victims. It provides a crisis hotline to support students as well. Yale University has published statistics of sexual assault complaints brought to the university. Such facilities and resources demonstrate the necessity of institutional support to hold predators accountable. They also reveal the prevalence of sexual assault and the work that has yet to be done on and off campus.

         How we talk about sex matters. Allegations against Brett Kavanaugh emerged after President Trump nominated him as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, prompting debate about how we handle sexual assault both individually and collectively. Political party affiliations reflected how people perceived the hearing and what they consequently believed. Sexual assault is violence; a moment can lead to trauma for life. Movements such as #MeToo have shed light on the prevalence of sexual violence in society and have prompted further discussions regarding our sexual climate. Although narratives are gray, intentions and actions, the core and the periphery, and the lies and the truths will eventually reveal themselves. For those of us with platforms to use our voice, writing—and rewriting—narratives is both an opportunity and responsibility. We must seek the truth and condemn sexual violence. To the sexual predators out there: If you double-cross us, we will destroy you.