Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward yesterday to speak her truth: that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were both in high school. In coming forward, she has shown great courage and resolve. Even in the middle of the #MeToo movement, many survivors fear coming forward, and for good reason; too often they pay a price for doing so, including retaliation and threats to their well-being, families and careers. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that in the context of workplace sexual harassment, as many as 75% of women who report experience some form of retaliation after speaking out. And although we tend to think about sexual harassment and assault as something that happens only to adults, a 2017 NWLC study found that 1 in 5 girls ages 14 to 18 reported that they had been kissed or touched without their consent. Where adults may face unlawful termination from work, for school-age girls, speaking out about sexual harassment and assault can mean being pushed out of school and denied an education.
Dr. Ford states that when they were both in high school, she was subject to sexual violence at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh. She had not asked to come forward and share her story. She was dragged into the spotlight against her will. But now that her story has been made public, the Senate has an obligation to ensure that the wrongs done to Anita Hill in 1991 are not repeated now or ever.
In 1991, when Anita Hill came forward to share her experiences of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, she was savaged by a Senate Judiciary Committee that presumed her dishonesty and treated her as though she were the one who stood accused of wrongdoing. An army of partisan operatives dragged her name through the mud.
The Senate has an opportunity to get it right this time. Here is what they must do:
- Halt the vote. In order to allow the time necessary for this investigation to proceed, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, scheduled for Thursday, September 20, cannot go forward.
- Duly investigate. Through a bipartisan process, the Committee should select and appoint a nonpartisan body or individual, outside of the executive or legislative branch, to investigate these claims. An independent, nonpartisan investigation is necessary to ensure that it will not be exploited as an opportunity for politically motivated attacks against this private individual forced into the spotlight against her will and to ensure that any conclusions drawn by the investigation are not politically motivated prejudgments.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation process has been flawed from the very start. There are not only profound questions about Kavanaugh’s legal judgment, but also about his moral judgment. Republican Senators must halt the confirmation process immediately. We must ensure that at this moment these allegations are taken seriously and given the careful consideration they deserve, while protecting Christine Blasey Ford, who is now target for personal destruction because she has named her experience. And what can we do to help protect Ford and other women like her?
- Demand survivor-centered and led responses. If a survivor wants to stay silent, she should have the right to do so. Likewise, if she wants to go public, no non-disclosure agreement or threats of retaliation should be permitted to stop her.
- Believe women and girls. Confront the victim-shaming and retaliation, that make women reasonably fear the heavy price they will pay for coming forward.
- Call on your Senator to stop the rush to a vote on Kavanaugh. This incident from high school, combined with Kavanaugh’s strong bond to his mentor, Alex Kozinski, a serial sexual harasser, and his lack of recollection and refusal to answer questions about their relationship are alarming.
We all have a responsibility to help protect and honor Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery.