On Sunday night, the New Yorker published a piece by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer regarding sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, from his freshman year at Yale. The article was published on the heels of the first victim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, agreeing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her allegations that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students. A third unidentified woman is offering to meet with the FBI to disclose how she was victimized and has implicated Judge Kavanaugh and others in the targeting of women for gang rape through the use of drugs and alcohol. Even with the number of victims adding up, the U.S. Senate is showing us how little the culture has shifted over the last 3 decades when it comes to victims stepping forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men.
1991 vs. 2018: Have We Evolved?
The response to these allegations has ranged from outright denial and support for Judge Kavanaugh to demands for the FBI to re-open its background investigation into Kavanaugh, protests, and the new hashtag #WhyIdidntReportIt. It is a pivotal moment because the Senate Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to handle the allegations differently from the 1991 Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas. In 1991, Professor Hill was asked if she was a “scorned woman” and why she didn’t come forward with her allegations sooner. The Senators also told her that discussing “large breasts” in the workplace was common behavior and they didn’t understand why she thought such talk was embarrassing. As we all know, Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed and has been serving on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991.
In light of the #MeToo movement taking off over the past year, women are hoping not to relive the humiliation, hostility, and condescension when Dr. Blasey Ford, and possibly others, testify before the Senate. As Tarana Burke said,
It’s been 27 years since Anita Hill. We need to see that there is a different understanding about sexual violence. We need to see that they know how to approach and handle issues of sexual violence in a very different way.”
Unfortunately, we are hearing echoes of the same attempts to discredit Anita Hill in 1991. The power structure from 1991 remains roughly intact – there are no female Republican Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senators Chuck Grassley (R – IA), Orrin Hatch (R – UT), and Patrick Leahy (D – VT) were all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. We are already hearing from many Senators, men, and women, dismissing the allegations against Kavanaugh as fabricated, as something that all male teenagers do, and even making jokes about sexual assault.
Is There a Light at the End of This Tunnel?
Four women made history by becoming U.S. senators in one year shortly after the Thomas confirmation hearings. We now have 23 women in the Senate and 2018 will be a record year for the number of women running for office. Is it all on the women running for office to change the culture in Washington and across the country regarding sexual misconduct? The burden to change cannot be placed solely on female legislators. Sure, it will help to have more women in government and in positions of power. But as we can see, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still mostly men and many male senators in power don’t want an independent investigation of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The change won’t happen without the men who witness other men behaving badly. The change won’t happen until men and women believe victims when they get past the fear of retaliation to speak up about sexual misconduct.
If you have been the victim of sexual misconduct, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage, including pre-litigation. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.