On the Allegations Against Kavanaugh and Whether They Were Concealed by Senate Democrats

[Content Note: Sexual assault.]

Today, there was a report by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer at the New Yorker about a woman who contacted ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein alleging that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were in high school.

The implication, and understandable supposition, is that Feinstein sat on the report because she didn't think a decades-old accusation should be introduced into the hearing, because it constitutes a personal rather than a legal objection to Kavanaugh's nomination — which, if true, would be incredibly awful.

As we await further information, I have a concern about the piece — which is that it's missing what I feel is a crucial piece of information.

In one place, the piece reads: "After the interactions with Eshoo's and Feinstein's offices, the woman decided not to speak about the matter publicly. She had repeatedly reported the allegation to members of Congress and, watching Kavanaugh move toward what looked like an increasingly assured confirmation, she decided to end her effort to come forward, a source close to the woman said. Feinstein's office did not respond to requests for comment."

In another place, the piece quotes Feinstein saying: "That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities."

Now, maybe Feinstein is lying about the woman requesting confidentiality and declining to come forward, but, if I were reporting on this, I would not have felt comfortable with the unresolved contradiction of "a source close to the woman" saying she was planning to come forward and Feinstein saying that she declined to come forward.

And the reason is that it's critically important to know what the woman sought and requested in order to understand the situation.

This is something I have learned as someone who's written about rape culture for 14 years, and it's something I've discussed with reporters who break stories about rape cases: Sometimes survivors contact you and they legitimately aren't sure what they want when they reach out. More times than not, they actually don't want to go public with their stories, especially when you are honest with them about what it will mean for their lives.

Many times, more than anything else, they want someone to give a shit. They want someone to believe them. They want to be heard and to be validated.

Sometimes they say, "Do with this information what you will, but leave me out of it." You can't do anything with that information under those circumstances. Making a formal second-hand allegation based on the statement of someone who won't even go on the record anonymously isn't responsible, even if you believe them.

[ETA. Note that, for example, writing about an "open secret" regarding a chronic abuser is meaningfully different than formally entering into the Congressional record an allegation of a specific charge made by someone who does not want to participate, even given assurances of anonymity.]

So, if Feinstein is telling the truth about the level of participation the woman offered to Senate Democrats, there might really be nothing she could have done with the information, and there was no reason to pass it on and break a confidentiality request.

Or maybe Feinstein totally shit the bed! The point is, I can't know that if I don't even know the basic facts about the guidelines set by the woman making the allegation.

I have absolutely zero investment in defending anyone, irrespective of political affiliation, who conspires to conceal allegations for any reason, against the wishes of the person making the allegations.

My central concern is always the person making the allegations. Which is why I would like to hear from her, even if anonymously, what she was seeking and whether she was willing and able to press forward.

I am worried that whoever leaked this information did not have her best interests at heart, and may be thrusting her into public view and put her at risk of doxing and worse.

Did they have her consent to leak this information? Was she fully prepared to move forward or not?

Was this leak about holding Feinstein accountable for a legitimate failure, or about one of her colleagues being pissed off at her because she wouldn't use something "explosive" against Kavanaugh?

I just want to get clear on this before I go any further. Because I have no idea what the woman making the allegations actually wanted in the end, and that matters to me.

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