By now, I am sure you are alarmed by the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
The Judge’s angry avoidance of questions, the partisan outbursts by panel members, and the media circus that surrounds the confirmation process, have left many of us wondering if we are witnessing the death of two-party politics in the United States.
The only dignity to be found in these hearings was modeled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged victim.
For those of you who don’t like it when I write about politics you might want to stop reading here. I feel morally compelled to write about this topic – sexual abuse – because it is both a leadership and a spiritual issue.
Victims Have Everything to Lose
Everyone who comes forward to give voice to sexual assault risks being re-traumatized publicly.
Adversarialism, the practice of aggressive cross-examination that accompanies hearings and criminal trials, adds degrading experience to degrading experience.
A majority of sexual assaults are not witnessed, and hard to prove. It is also common for an assault victim to be dismissed, or met with hostility, when reporting the crime to police.
Most victims of sexual assault suffer anxiety, depression and anger for many years following the event. Here are a few of the other effects:
Fear of being alone
Fear of the dark
Fear of abandonment
Fear of intimacy
Fear of sexuality
*Source: Survivors and Friends http://www.sandf.org/resources/symptoms_of_sexual_abuse.php
David Butt, a well-known Canadian lawyer who advocates for sexual assault survivors, recently stated:
“Ninety per cent of all sexual assaults go unreported; and for the 10 per cent reported, the conviction rate is just one in four. Overall, that is a 97.5 per cent failure rate. Compare that to the guilty plea and/or conviction rate for all other crimes – well above 90 per cent – and we see just how poorly we serve victims of sexual assault. A 2.5 per cent client satisfaction rate is disgraceful.”
These realities provide very little incentive for any abuse survivor to testify before a court or a committee.
Dr. Blasey Ford knew what awaited her at the Kavanaugh hearing when she stated: "I wondered if I would just be jumping in front of a train that was going where it was going anyway, and I would just be personally annihilated."
Trump Makes Matters Worse
The President of the United States – himself accused of sexual misconduct over many years – is publicly mocking Dr. Blasey Ford.
At a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, Donald Trump ridiculed Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony because she could not remember some of the details of the alleged assault. PTSD, a common outcome of sexual assault, is a significant cause of memory loss.
Trump also suggested Kavanaugh was the party most damaged by the hearing. “A man’s life is shattered,” he claimed.
Trump took this even further when he suggested the real victims were men: “It is a very scary time for young men in America when you could be guilty of something you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.”
It is apparent that the aggressive approach taken by The President is an attempt to shift the narrative away from a credible concern raised about Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness for office to a flawed process caused by the Democrats.
It’s ironic that all of this has emerged from a job interview for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
The Kavanaugh hearing has been a punch in the gut for those grappling with the aftermath of sexual assault.
Christine Blasey Ford's testimony has triggered a widerange of inflammatory emotions, including flashbacks, panic attacks and fury amongst survivors.
It’s important that our society recognizes and acknowledges the systemic abuse of power, misogyny and sexism that has been allowed to persist with seeming impunity.
We must make it safe for people to speak out against the barriers to justice that keep criminal behaviour and bad systems in place.
We must also be willing to engage in this very difficult conversation for as long as it takes to create real justice.