The anonymous woman who accused Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault has come forward. Her name is Christine Blasey Ford, and her allegation deserves to be taken seriously. It is an accusation of attempted rape, supported by some circumstantial evidence, and is potentially disqualifying—though the timing complicates the matter.
Ford told The Washington Post that the incident probably took place at a house party in the summer of 1982, when she was 15, and a student at the all-girls Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. Kavanaugh, a student at the all-male Georgetown Prep, would have been 17. Ford said she went upstairs to use the bathroom, and was pushed into a bedroom by Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge. Kavanaugh forced himself on her, pinned her to the bed, attempted to remove her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to stop anyone from hearing her screams, she alleged. Eventually, Judge intervened by jumping on top of the pair. This gave Ford an opportunity to escape, and she said she fled the house after hiding in the bathroom for a few minutes.
Ford made Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) aware of the accusation earlier this summer. Feinstein gravely mishandled the matter. She did not grill Kavanaugh about Ford's allegation when she had the opportunity to do so. Instead, she waited until the last possible minute to inform the FBI about it. This delay was a travesty, and has invited charges of political gamesmanship. It puts everyone—Kavanaugh, Republicans, the broader public—in an unncessarily difficult and uncertain position.
That's a shame, because the accusation itself—while still decidedly unproven—is not without supporting evidence. It is much more difficult to dismiss now that we know the name of the person making it.
Some are making a big deal out of the fact that Ford took a polygraph, and the allegation was deemed credible. This is actually a comparatively weak piece of evidence in Ford's favor. Lie detectors can be gamed, and the scientific community is conflicted on their overall reliability.
But other circumstantial evidence gives some weight to Ford's claims. Kavanaugh's friend, Judge, is a conservative commentator who strongly denied Ford's accusation when it was made anonymously. "I never saw Brett act that way," he said, according to multiple news sources.
Judge is also the author of two books that address his own alcoholism throughout his teen years—Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk and God and Man at Georgetown Prep. According to Mother Jones:
That book chronicles Judge's time as a teenage alcoholic. Like many works of the genre, it devotes a lot of ink to the kinds of debauchery that leads to AA and recovery. While there's nothing in the book that resembles the incident reportedly described in the private letter given to the FBI, Judge says his own black-out drinking while he and Kavanaugh were Georgetown Prep students "reached the point where once I had the first beer, I found it impossible to stop until I was completely annihilated."
He describes, for instance, what happened after a night of heavy drinking with friends at a Georgetown bar. "The next thing I knew, I was lying on a bathroom floor. I was curled up in the fetal position with saliva running out of the side of my mouth," Judge writes, explaining that he had inexplicably woken up inside a nearby Four Seasons Hotel. He writes that he called his mom for help getting home. "I must have come over here and passed out," he tells her.
Mother Jones suggests that Judge might simply not remember the incident in question. The article also draws attention to another passage from the Georgetown Prep book, in which Judge makes reference to friend, "Bart O'Kavanaugh," who "puked in someone's car the other night" and passed out on the way back from a party. And the Georgetown Prep yearbook entry for Kavanaugh makes reference to his membership in the "Keg City Club."
That the teenage Kavanaugh was a notorious drinker and party boy while in high school does not confirm what Ford has said about him. But it does make it somewhat easier to believe Ford's claim. It certainly sounds like Kavanaugh and Judge were not just typical underage kids who occasionally consumed some alcohol; there's sufficient circumstantial evidence to hint at a pattern of more serious reckless behavior.
It does not appear that Ford simply invented this accusation out of nowhere; in 2012 she told her therapist about being the victim of sexual assault, and she provided notes from the therapy sessions to The Washington Post. However, she did not name Kavanaugh when she spoke about the matter with her therapist, and it is true that memory can play funny tricks on everyone. By her own admission, Ford doesn't remember everything about the incident with perfect clarity; she's not exactly sure when or where it happened. (I might actually have been more skeptical of this allegation had she claimed to be able to perfectly recall every detail 35 years later.) The mind fills in gaps, and it's possible to misremember things that happened so many decades ago. The public has to weigh the likelihood that her memory is mistaken against the likelihood of this being exactly what it seems: a credible accusation of sexual assault against the person President Trump picked to sit on the Supreme Court.
Note that this allegation—as we understand it thus far—isn't akin to the typical campus Title IX case I cover for Reason. These often involve drunkenness on the part of both parties, and an encounter that started out consensual and then turned into something else. Ford, on the other hand, has claimed she was essentially jumped, and never gave Kavanaugh any reason whatsoever to believe he had license to initiate something. This alone makes the allegation much more serious. While it's tempting to say that a person's bad behavior in high school should not be held against them—or else we're about to disqualify a whole lot more people from ever serving in public office—what is alleged here is extremely heinous.
It's very difficult to adjudicate teen sexual misconduct cases, given that they often involve intoxicated participants with hazy memories and a lack of witnesses to the actual incident. In this situation, the sheer amount of time that has elapsed is a factor as well.
As I've repeatedly written, the fourth-wave feminist claim that we should always believe all alleged victims of sexual assault is wrongheaded. Just last week, I covered Asia Argento's sexual assault accusation against Jimmy Bennett, which everyone should regard as highly suspect. But we shouldn't automatically disbelieve victims, either. That Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court would be bad for the pro-choice cause isn't sufficient reason for the left to accept his accuser's account, nor is it sufficient reason for the right to dismiss this allegation out of hand.
Kavanaugh should be given the opportunity to respond to Ford and these charges, now that they are out in the open. So far, he has categorically denied them, though not since Ford identified herself, and not while under oath. The Washington Post story noted that Kavanaugh denied committing any sexual impropriety during his testimony at the confirmation hearing, but the question specifically pertained to acts he may have committed as an adult. Again, the decision not to pursue this matter until now—a decision for which Feinstein bears considerable blame—was a bad one.
It's impossible to say where this leaves things. Due process and innocent until proven guilty are standards of justice and good things in general. But they are not explicit requirements for picking Supreme Court justices. The decision to move forward with the nomination is ultimately a political one. On one hand, it's tough to say that Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court should be unilaterally derailed over an unconfirmed 35-year-old allegation made by a Democrat at the most politically opportune moment—this is the weaponization of #MeToo for partisan political purposes. I'm not naive, I see that. On the other hand, Republicans were taking advantage of political opportunity as well: the opportunity to find a replacement for Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy before the midterm elections.
There's always Amy Coney Barrett, I guess.
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