Opinion: Kavanaugh Controversy Reveals Persistence of Deep Prejudices Against Survivors

On October 8, 1991, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “Well, [Anita Hill’s] at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission! She’s a Yale Law graduate! She was offended by it, if that’s what happened, why didn’t she make [a] complaint, right then and there? … And let me tell you, the law of sexual harassment is so broad that a person can accuse another at any time and, and ruin their reputation just by an unfounded allegation.”

On September 18, 2018, Hatch said, “Somebody’s mixed up … Is this judge a really good man? And he is.”

One of the key differences between senators’ behavior in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing versus Justice Clarence Thomas’s hearing is a new unwillingness to directly discredit Kavanaugh’s accusers. The truth is that Republican reactions today may be nearly as harmful as their responses in the 1990s.

Over the course of the #MeToo movement, Republicans have undertaken a course of relative inaction and passive condemnation, which, while drawing skepticism, has helped them avoid alienating women voters to a higher degree. While both parties in the past have certainly been guilty of perpetuating the difficulties that survivors face when coming forward, Democrats have mainly been guilty of protecting individuals within their party. Republicans have been guilty of that and of formulating policies that make it more difficult for survivors of sexual assault and abuse to speak up and be believed — policies that disproportionately affect women with low incomes and minimal job security. Women have long been more likely to vote Democratic, and female elected officials are overwhelmingly more likely to be Democrats, two phenomenons likely to intensify in the 2018 midterms. Republicans might have retained some support from women voters if their leadership had not actively condoned Donald Trump at every turn, a man who has been accused of sexual assault numerous times. They might have retained some respect from women voters if they had put the rights of survivors above their immediate political interests. They have done neither, proving that the Republican leadership believes that women’s importance extends only to their possible support on election day, and even that is dispensable.

When Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, it was 1991, and there were only two women in the Senate. Now, there are 21, a record number, but still far short of the nearly equal ratio that would mirror the country’s demographics. Overall, Congress still looks very white, male, and heterosexual. Women’s advancement and the feminist revival triggered by Donald Trump’s presidency have led to the #MeToo movement, which in turn has led to a reluctance by Senate Republicans to directly attack Dr. Christine Blasey’s honesty (although they have been far less unwilling to attack and shame Deborah Ramirez). Whether they simply don’t believe Dr. Blasey, or they don’t care if Kavanaugh is guilty, Republicans are confronted with a dilemma: how to defend him in a “politically correct” way.

Calling Dr. Blasey “mixed up” and implying that her memory is unreliable is just as offensive as calling her a liar. She has received so many death threats that she has been forced to leave her home. She’s going to be grilled by senators who want to disbelieve and discredit her. Her life will never be the same again. The idea that she would willingly go through all this if there was any doubt in her mind of Kavanaugh’s guilt is ludicrous.

Dismissing her accusation as politically motivated is no less offensive and unsound. Sexual assault is not a partisan issue. It should never be a partisan issue. But somehow, a large proportion of the Senate seems to feel that it is acceptable to thrust survivors into a hostile partisan arena to achieve their own ends. And were we to accept that Dr. Blasey’s accusation is politically motivated, we would have to assume that Dr. Blasey is in possession of a time-turner of some sort, since her account is corroborated by records from her therapist of six years ago.

Republicans also like to say that Kavanaugh has demonstrated his respect for women. Here’s a list of actions by Kavanaugh that establish a disrespect for women: (1) At least two alleged sexual assaults, (2) crudely referencing supposed sexual conquests in his high school yearbook, (3) being part of a Yale fraternity infamous for misogyny and a secret society nicknamed “Tit and Clit,” (4) participating in Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton, an investigation that chose not to focus on the dubious consent that Monica Lewinsky gave, but rather on humiliating Bill Clinton, and by extension, Lewinsky, and (5) attempting to prevent an undocumented 15 year old girl from obtaining an abortion. It should also be noted that Kavanaugh has expressed no remorse for his actions. He has unequivocally denied the allegations and the expressions of misogyny, and has repeatedly expressed a “boys will boys” attitude about his high school and college years. Despite Kavanaugh’s 2015 assertion that “what happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,” he should be held accountable for his actions, and so should Senate Republicans.

In their desperation to confirm a Supreme Court nominee before midterms, Republicans have displayed a disdainful callousness towards women that may both lose them the Senate and their long-term credibility with women voters.