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Thursday
Sep202018

Sexual assault in the national spotlight

Will allegations against Kavanaugh be investigated before a SCOTUS vote?

The allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are shining a national spotlight on the incidence of sexual assault, especially when the survivors are teenagers, and spurring an array of #WeBelieveSurvivors actions. Girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be survivors of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, according to statistics from RAINN, the national sexual violence hotline.  But often, these attacks remain an ugly secret, haunting women and girls who are reluctant to come forward. More than 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that California psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had credibly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault and attempted rape when they were both in high school. As reported in the Post, significant circumstantial evidence supports Dr. Blasey Ford, who described the attack to therapists in 2012 and 2013, long before Kavanaugh’s nomination.
 
The Senate Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to vote on the nomination today, with a vote in the full Senate planned for next week. At first, Republicans attempted to muscle their way through. When that became untenable, they hastily announced a hearing for this coming Monday, September 24, allowing little time to investigate the allegations beforehand.
 
Dr. Blasey Ford has called for an FBI investigation, and has said she will not testify on Monday. But this afternoon, it was reported that she has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that she “would be prepared to testify next week” although not on Monday, so long as senators offer “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety,” according to the New York Times. She has beenreceiving death threats, and her family has reportedly moved out of their home. As of this writing, committee Republicans are refusing to subpoena conservative writer and high school friend Mark Judge—an allegedparticipant in the attack— and are refusing to ask the FBI to re-open their background investigation on Kavanaugh. They are also refusing to allow corroborating witnesses to testify, including those who could testify to Dr. Blasey Ford’s character.
 

How can we send the message that #WeBelieveSurvivors?

Protestors gathered outside Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley’s office this morning and social media channels were full of #BelieveChristine messages.  Today and tomorrow have also been designated as national call-in days, with SEIU offering a toll-free hotline (866-426-2631).

Let your Senators know that there must be a thorough, independent investigation of the  allegations against Kavanaugh before any vote on his nomination!
 
On Monday, the #SAVESCOTUS coalition has scheduled a variety of protest actions as the Judiciary Committee meets, most likely without Dr. Blasey Ford present. The sponsoring groups are asking people to register here, if you plan to show up and participate in the events taking place in the Hart Senate Atrium in Washington, D.C. starting at 10 a.m.  From 11 a.m. to noon, there will be an event in the atrium featuring survivors of sexual assault, #MeToo movement leaders and celebrities and leaders of many national women’s organizations. From noon to 1 pm, there will be a march to the Supreme Court for a symbolic collective action.
 
At 1 pm Eastern time on Monday, the coalition has called for a national walkout and moment of solidarity with Dr. Blasey Ford.  Participants are being urged to wear the color white and capture a photo of you and your allies walking out of work, classrooms or other places to share immediately on social media using the hashtag#BelieveSurvivors.  Want to organize an event in your community? Check out the “We Believe Survivors” toolkit here.

 
What are Kavanaugh and his supporters saying?
 

Kavanaugh’s boosters, for their part, have sought to minimize the allegations, tacitly accepting their credibility but arguing that attempted rape shouldn’t be disqualifying for a Supreme Court post if it happened long enough ago.
 
Kavanaugh himself has “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations altogether—a position that may be difficult to maintain under oath as senators question him about the hard partying and underage black-out drinking that both he and Judge have acknowledged in the past. In a 2015 speech at Catholic University, for instance, Kavanaugh joked: “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. That's been a good thing for all of us, I think." That line was missing from the speech transcript he submitted to the Judiciary Committee earlier.
 
Notably, this isn’t Kavanaugh’s only association with sexual misconduct and violence against women. Kavanaugh’s longtime mentor on the federal court, Judge Alex Kozinski, was forced to retire early after more than a dozen women described sexual harassment and groping. Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in the 1990s, Kozinski’s son clerked for Kavanaugh last year and the two have remained close. Kozinski’s reputation was widely known—women law students were warned to avoid clerking for him—in part because he ran an email list for law clerks, judges and attorneys in which he shared incredibly vile sexually explicit material. Then there is Kavanaugh’s friendship with disgraced senior White House aide Rob Porter, whose violent physical abuse of his ex-wives was known to the White House for a year before it became public. Porter got his White House gig on Kavanaugh’s recommendation.
 
Further affecting Kavanaugh’s credibility is significant evidence that he lied to Congress under oath during his previous confirmation hearings about a host of other issues, including whether he knowingly used stolen documents, was involved in vetting radical judicial nominee Charles Pickering and had defended the Bush administration’s illegal use of torture. 

How are senators responding?

 
Three Senate Democrats—Doug Jones (AL), Patrick Leahy (VT), and Richard Blumenthal (CT)—have questioned whether the White House knew about the allegations beforehand.Writing to White House Counsel Don McGahn, they noted the cover-up of Porter’s history of violence towards women and the suspicious timing of a letter signed by 65 of Kavanaugh’s high school acquaintances designed to discredit the allegations. (A number of Kavanaugh’s character witnesses have declined to reaffirm their support on the record after the allegations came to light.)
 
In contrast, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) referred to the allegation of attempted rape as “a little hiccup” in a conference call with “VIP” supporters, before assuring them “we’ll get through this and we’ll get off to the races.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) seemed to echo the White House’s talking points rejecting the need for an FBI investigation and hinting that if Dr. Blasey Ford refuses to testify without one, the Kavanaugh confirmation should move forward.
 
Every woman in America understands what Republicans are trying to do to Dr. Blasey Ford -- and we aren’t going to stand for it.  The Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee are trying to drag out Dr. Blasey Ford without her consent and on their own terms, take it or leave it. Every woman understands what that feels like.
 
Kavanaugh has the potential to shift the balance of the court on issues critical to women’s health for an entire generation. If he is confirmed and proves to be the pivotal vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, all three women on the Court will have voted to uphold abortion rights while two of the five men voting to take those rights away will have been credibly accused of grave sexual misconduct.

 
Why don’t victims of sexual assault come forward sooner?

Why didn’t you come forward sooner? This question – faced by countless sexual victims, and now by Dr. Blasey Ford --  is rooted in misconceptions about abuse, stigmatization and trauma relating to sexual violence. It is very common for survivors to delay sharing their trauma because of feelings of shame and denial, fear of what will happen as a result of sexual violence and low self-esteem. Survivors are also deterred from speaking out due to a lack of information about sexual violence, issues of memory loss from being drugged and having a history of being sexually violated.

How can we support those experiencing sexual trauma and work to prevent sexual violence? RAINN provides 24/7 hotline services online and by phone at 800-656-HOPE. They offer a range of services including education on the warning signs of sexual violence for different age groups and demographics as well as prevention services. To learn more visit: www.rainn.org

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