There’s this theory in criminal law that it’s not just to punish someone for a crime they didn’t know they were committing. It’s not to say that if a person doesn’t know the law, they are relieved, but rather if we fail to provide them notice of that law and opportunity to abide, how can we hold them responsible?
The same can be said about Brett Kavanaugh. I think he knew rape was against the law. He probably knew sexual assault was against the law, although what he determines as assault and what victims view as assault might differ dramatically. But I’m can’t brand him as an evil rapist or a malicious abuser. More than anything, he was probably just a selfish adolescent boy who never learned how to respect and listen to women. This doesn’t make it okay. His selfish behaviour is still deplorable, and his lack of empathy and remorse in his response now even more so.
But I don’t know that stripping Kavanaugh of his nomination would have changed anything for people like him in the long run. It might have created a sense of justice for his victims, and it might encourage future survivors to step forward with their stories, but it’s not going to teach Kavanaugh anything about consent. It’s not going to teach our president how to respond to stories of assault and abuse. It’s not going to challenge our society to do better, it’s just going to make one political party really angry, and the other feeling well pleased.
We’ve made what should be a purely human issue into a political issue. But this has nothing to do with political affiliations. This has nothing to do with whether you voted to elect Trump or whether you wanted someone else in office.
This has everything to do with how we as a society, republican and democrat alike, have failed in educating our children about consent and respect. We have failed to believe survivors of sexual assault. We have failed to hold perpetrators responsible. We have failed to make this a big deal, to fight for some sense of justice, and we wonder why it keeps happening.
We are shocked when we hear about Catholic priests abusing boys in the church. We are angered when Olympic gymnasts recount their stories of being abused at the hands of their doctor and coach. We admire the female actresses and musicians who stand on stages and denounce the behaviour of their male directors, producers, peers. We believe a woman who comes forward with her story about an assault when she was fifteen . . . except we don’t. For some reason our capacity to acknowledge sexual assault and rape ends when it’s not a group of individuals coming forward, or when the scandal just isn’t as horrific, or when our political views matter more than our human empathy.
We don’t want to think that our children could be defined as abusers and rapists. We’re happier to pretend that we function in a society where that only happens in dark alleys and after 2am when a girl had too much to drink. We’re happier to accept stories of abuse when it comes from larger institutions or Hollywood, splashed across page six.
But we exist in a society where 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted (and the statistics are probably higher, we just don’t know because too many of us are scared to report it). So if 1 in 4 women are sexually assault, and 85-90% of assaults (for college women) occur from someone the survivor already knew, what does that say about the generations we are raising?
We can’t raise our daughters encouraging them to “not get raped”. We might never say those words but we imply it when we tell girls to dress modestly, to watch their drink, to travel in groups, to not stay out too late. We have to raise daughters who stand up when someone treats them in a way that is disrespectful to their humanity. We have to raise men who will do the same.
We can’t raise our sons telling them to simply “not rape”. It’s deeper then that. We have to raise a generation of men who are resolute and firm in their belief that women are worthy of respect. That women are valuable and worthy and matter. Because despite all of our efforts towards equality, the startling statistics about survivors of rape and sexual assault suggest that some pockets of our society still don’t get it. They still see women as something to be conquered and dominated and won. Or they still see sexual assault as something that doesn’t dehumanise or scar or terrify the person who experiences it.
The right thing to do for Brett Kavanaugh (and all perpetrators like him, who might not be the violent rapists we are programmed to fear, but rather selfish and immature men who lack the capacity to respect women) would have been to educate him about assault and consent when he was fifteen. But to try to teach him those lessons now won’t change the allegations against him. Stripping him of the nomination won’t teach him, or anyone else, about consent and respect.
So I get it. For survivors who cringe at the thought of someone like Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, I get it. Because when I saw the headline that he was confirmed, my stomach dropped too. Because we don’t want anyone else to experience what we did, or be doubted the way Dr. Ford was, and yet we now have a Justice who might not acknowledge our stories or create change to prevent future harm.
For people who fail to see why this matters. . . it was so long ago, it can’t be proved, it’s all political anyways. . . I get it. To extend empathy to a situation that has never affected you or your loved ones is near impossible, and in this situation even more so because we clouded it with our political opinions that should have been entirely irrelevant.
And while the political climate can feel hopeless or frustrating, we have to remember that some issues are bigger than that. This is a human issue; it is not isolated in D.C. or at your Congress persons’ office. At the end of the day, an overwhelming majority of women in my generation have experienced some form of assault or abuse. And those experiences are not limited based on our political preferences. We’re speaking out about it now because the older generation has opened that door. It’s a small crack, admittedly. And some people would rather it stay shut than acknowledge our failures as a society.
But it’s open nonetheless.