Brett Kavanaugh, Consent, and Listening to Survivors

[Content Note: Sexual assault; rape culture.]

On Friday, I wrote about the anonymous allegation that had been made against Brett Kavanaugh that he attempted to rape someone in high school. The story was that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein had gotten a letter from the woman who had been assaulted by Kavanaugh but had not made it public, and the implication was that she concealed it because she didn't want it used against him, for some inexplicable reason.

A lot of people decided to immediately go after Feinstein, based on zero actual evidence of this nefarious plot — and despite all evidence to the contrary, given that Feinstein has generally been a reliable advocate for survivors. (For example.)

I was not convinced it went down the way far too many people reflexively believed that it did, not only because it seemed out of character for Feinstein to me, but also — and primarily — because I hadn't heard from the woman herself, and I had no idea what her actual wishes were regarding coming forward in a formal way.

And having spent a damn lot of years of working with and listening to survivors, I suspected that it did not go the way that people were keen to presume, because of their own various agendas, none of which had anything to do with actually caring about the human being who alleged that she had been harmed by Kavanaugh.

In a private conversation with colleagues on Friday, I wrote: "My guess — and it is entirely a guess, but based on many interactions I've had with survivors over the last 14 years — is that the woman reached out in good faith, and then when Feinstein told her what it would require for them to use the information, and what the Republicans would do in retaliation, she backed off. I don't see why else Democrats were meeting with her attorney."

Because that was my guess, I wrote the piece I did, urging people to consider that we hadn't heard from the woman, whose name we now know is Christine Blasey Ford, and urging caution about making assumptions about what happened.

Well, unfortunately, because this issue was made public without her consent, Ford has been obliged to publicly share her story about what happened then, and what happened now, and my guess was not far off, it seems.

Emma Brown at the Washington Post reports [please note there are descriptions of assault at the link]:
She contacted The Post through a tip line in early July, when it had become clear that Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of possible nominees to replace retiring justice Anthony M. Kennedy but before Trump announced his name publicly. A registered Democrat who has made small contributions to political organizations, she contacted her congresswoman, Democrat Anna G. Eshoo, around the same time. In late July, she sent a letter via Eshoo's office to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

In the letter, which was read to The Post, Ford described the incident and said she expected her story to be kept confidential. She signed the letter as Christine Blasey, the name she uses professionally.

Though Ford had contacted The Post, she declined to speak on the record for weeks as she grappled with concerns about what going public would mean for her and her family — and what she said was her duty as a citizen to tell the story.

She engaged Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer known for her work on sexual harassment cases. On the advice of Katz, who said she believed Ford would be attacked as a liar if she came forward, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which Katz provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.

By late August, Ford had decided not to come forward, calculating that doing so would upend her life and probably would not affect Kavanaugh's confirmation. "Why suffer through the annihilation if it's not going to matter?" she said.

Her story leaked anyway. On Wednesday, the Intercept reported that Feinstein had a letter describing an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school and that Feinstein was refusing to share it with her Democratic colleagues.

...As the story snowballed, Ford said, she heard people repeating inaccuracies about her and, with the visits from reporters, felt her privacy being chipped away. Her calculation changed.

"These are all the ills that I was trying to avoid," she said, explaining her decision to come forward. "Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation."

Katz said she believes Feinstein honored Ford's request to keep her allegation confidential, but "regrettably others did not."

"Victims must have the right to decide whether to come forward, especially in a political environment that is as ruthless as this one," Katz said. "She will now face vicious attacks by those who support this nominee."
Emphases mine.

I am absolutely furious and deeply sad that Ford's story was made public without her consent, by an outlet whose editors don't give a single fuck about Ford, but were eager to dunk on Senator Feinstein. Fuck the Intercept forever, for not caring about Ford's consent any more than Brett Kavanaugh did.

And I am equally rageful and grieving that Ford ultimately made the entirely understandable calculation to not come forward, because she knew that it probably wouldn't have mattered — which is the consequence of being governed by a Republican majority whose members are as eager to tolerate sex predators in their ranks as they are to legislatively undermine women's consent and agency at every turn.

And now the Republican Party and their deplorable base will commence tearing Ford alive in the press, not only to try to discredit her, but also as a warning shot across the bow to any other women who Kavanaugh has harmed, who might consider coming forward to tell their stories.

This is what will happen to you if you dare.

I am sorry that Ford was put into this position without her consent, and I take up space in solidarity with her. I will do the same if there are any other women who will risk the gauntlet to tell their truth.

And I will listen to them. Not just to their stories, but to what they want and need from their fellow countrypeople.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus