The hysteria that followed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination last Thursday has been concerning for the entire country.
Twitter is filled with those calling Kavanaugh guilty of sexual assault, while any who defend the nominee are seen as rape apologists. In the U.S., one is considered innocent until proven guilty, but that long-standing idea is being thrown out the window by those who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination on the basis of the emerging sexual assault allegations against him. Looking at the facts that have been presented, there is nowhere near enough evidence to prove with 100 percent certainty that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s claims are true.
Let’s look at what we know. Ford alleges that in the early 1980s at a high school party, Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to take off her clothes, and covered her mouth as she screamed. This all happened while Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, was in the same room. Kavanagh has denied these allegations. Ford identified several other witnesses to the event, all of whom have either refuted the claim or have no recollection of the event. The lack of corroborating evidence inevitably hurts the credibility of Ford’s story.
Other pieces of supposed evidence have been presented by those who believe Ford. One points to therapy notes from 2012 and 2013, in which Ford discussed a sexual assault that took place. These accounts, however, do not mention Kavanaugh by name, which make them unusable as evidence. Many have also pointed to a polygraph that Ford took where the results show she is telling the truth, but polygraphs can be so inaccurate that the Supreme Court ruled that federal and state courts can ban them from being used as pieces of evidence.
We are left with a he said, she said accusation. When it comes to this, one person’s testimony is not enough to declare someone guilty. As Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor hired to question Ford during the hearing, wrote in a report, “I do not think that a reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the committee.”
The FBI is currently examining Dr. Ford’s claims, and if evidence comes forth to support her allegations as a result of this investigation, then the claims of Kavanaugh’s guilt are justified. However, until that moment, the public should remain hesitant of declaring Kavanaugh guilty.
The way the Kavanaugh case has been viewed by the public is a general representation of what the #MeToo movement has done to the credibility of sexual assault accusations. In the past, accusations were not seen as true until evidence was provided to support them. At its worst, women were even accused of fabricating their stories — take Bill Cosby and how the multiple women who accused him were dismissed for years. In the case of Kavanaugh, though, the evidence in its current state is lacking and yet he has, on occasion, been treated as guilty. Perhaps this treatment stems from how people may be more weary of these accusations — it is important to remember how easy it can be to assume guilt before giving the accused a chance to prove their innocence.
That is not to say the #MeToo movement was not an overwhelmingly positive development for the U.S. and the world. It has helped give women the confidence to step forward and share their stories surrounding sexual assault. It has also led to more of these stories being investigated seriously instead of being brushed under the rug as many were in the past.
The problem, however, lies in the public’s tendency to not wait for these investigations to conclude. They do not wait to hear both side of the story, to see the evidence, or to see where the investigations lead, but make conclusions simply based on the claims of the accuser. This can be a dangerous mindset.
By examining this entire ordeal, we see a need for balance between two extremes. On one side, we are aware of cases like that of Anita Hill’s. Hill, in 1991, testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while she worked under him at the Department of Education. Hill’s accusations were never taken seriously by the Republicans on the Senate Committee deciding on Thomas’s nomination, and she was berated and insulted in her attempts to share her story by the very senators that sat on the committee. Instead of discussing the validity of Hill’s claims, her critics attacked her character and asked questions that were in no way related to her accusation. This type of behavior was and is unacceptable.
On the other side of the spectrum we see cases like Kavanaugh, in which people have already deemed him guilty of the allegation and unfit to be a Justice. A middle ground is needed where women are not attacked for sharing their stories and each accusation is seriously investigated, but where there is patience and a proper analysis of the evidence before the accused is declared guilty by the public.
So next time a celebrity, politician or even an everyday person is accused of sexual assault, we must remind ourselves to take a step back. Our legal system implores us to scrutinize the evidence and come to an fair, informed decision before handing down the guilty verdict that could destroy the accused’s life forever. If the evidence concludes and the accused are guilty of sexual assault, then they will deserve all of the criticism and legal action must be taken. By analyzing claims with this mindset, the credibility of sexual assault accusations will only strengthen as women reset the status quo through their commendable #MeToo movement.
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