COLUMN: Response to 'Democrats are using the sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh for selfish political gain'

Ethan Smith,  IDS opinion editor and columnist, published a column Oct. 3 with the headline, “Democrats are using the sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh for selfish political gain.” Many readers found problems with the argument presented in the column and took to Twitter or contacted the IDS to voice their concerns about the column. Their responses can be found here.

I share many of those concerns and believe the column does not succeed in arguing the claim suggested by the headline.

There is absolutely something to be said about how members of the Democratic party viewed the situation as a means to make sure Kavanaugh was not confirmed for the Supreme Court. The main objective should have been to seek justice for Christine Blasey Ford. 

However, the column does not argue this. The majority of the column focuses on how Ford’s accusations are, in the words of the writer, “seemingly false”.

The column seems to imply justice for Ford is somehow wrong by focusing on the allegations against Kavanaugh are “seemingly false” solely based on Ford’s inability to remember certain details about the situation. Using this as the argument for why her accusations are false shows a gross misunderstanding of trauma, especially related to sexual assault.

Rape and trauma survivors often have fragmented or incomplete memories related to their trauma. This is largely due to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function, shutting down in response to fear.

"When the executive center of the our brain goes offline, we are less able to willfully control what we pay attention to, less able to make sense of what we are experiencing, and therefore less able to recall our experience in an orderly way," said Dr. James Hopper and Dr. David Lisak in a Time report.

The column also overlooks the credibility of Kavanaugh’s claims. If time is spent diving into Blasey Ford’s credibility, it seems fair to look at Kavanaugh’s. He offered vague answers, including whether or not he knew about allegations by Deborah Ramirez, dodged some questions about his drinking habits in high school and college and even responded to questions with questions to Senators.

The column goes on to discuss how the allegations will affect Kavanaugh’s life.

“The Democrats' scheme of ruining the lives of others through some duplicitous application of the law is a disgusting, unethical move to attempt to obtain political power,” Smith wrote in his column.

The lives of rich, powerful white men are not ruined by sexual assault allegations in the way that Smith claims they are.

Kavanaugh was successfully sworn in as a justice to the Supreme Court. President Donald Trump has been accused of sexual assault by at least 22 different women, and he is the president. It seems like the lives of these men have not been ruined at all, and instead, they preside in some of the most powerful positions in the United States.

If any argument about lives being ruined in situations of reporting sexual assault is going to be made, then we should be talking about the lives of women. It is extremely difficult to come forward, especially when so many seem eager to discredit them.

We have to stop assuming women are looking for something to gain when they report sexual assault, and instead, listen to them and treat them with respect.

A 2010 U.S. study estimates that only between 2 and 10 percent of rape accusations are false, which is a fairly small amount. 

Further, in a study undertaken for the British Home Office, the most detailed study ever conducted about sexual assault reports to the police, out of 216 complaints that were classified as false, the accuser lodged a formal complaint in 126 cases. From there, only 39 complainants named a suspect and six led to an arrest, and ultimately, only two led to charges which were then deemed false.

This column is poorly argued at best, but actively harmful at worst. There is no reason to blatantly disrespect Ford by attempting to discredit her story while at the same time putting full faith in Kavanaugh’s statements without even analyzing them. If Smith wants to make the argument that Democrats have mistreated Ford, he should do so without mistreating her himself. 

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