WSU professors weigh in on Kavanaugh, the burden of reporting for sexual assault survivors


The stage is set for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh to testify before the Senate today alongside Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing him of sexually assaulting her at a high school party.

Since Blasey Ford shared her story publicly last Wednesday, two more women have come forward with allegations of sexual transgressions from Kavanaugh’s past. Kavanaugh denies all three accusations.

One woman says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her nonconsensually. The other accuses him of sexually aggressive behavior at a high school party where she was “gang raped.”

President Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh, has been on the receiving end of sexual misconduct accusations that he adamantly denies. In a tweet last Friday, Trump questioned why Blasey Ford would not immediately report the alleged attack.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” the tweet read.

In the wake of Trump’s tweet, #whyIdidn’treport trended on Twitter as survivors of sexual assault shared their many reasons for not reporting attacks.

In an email response to The Sunflower, women’s studies and sociology professor Jodie Simon said it’s unfair to expect victims of sexual assault to immediately report their attacks.

“Trump voiced a very common mythos shared by many in our country about the ‘proper’ or ‘appropriate’ way to respond to trauma and scientific data and psychological studies have repeatedly demonstrated that there is no ‘right way’ to handle victimization,” Simon wrote. “By revictimizing the victim we silence them.

“And when people in a position of power and authority repeat this harmful stance we only further silence more victims,” Simon wrote.

Political Science Department Head Neal Allen said a Supreme Court nomination is a “particularly lousy” venue to have a national discussion about such sensitive topics.

“The stakes are entirely too high,” Allen said. “Right now, the question is whether or not Brett Kavanaugh can be a Supreme Court justice for the rest of his life.”

In the coming years, the Supreme Court will likely hear a myriad of cases on polarizing issues ranging from abortion rights to campaign finance laws.

“Right now, if you have a certain position on those issues, you’re incentivized to back Brett Kavanaugh — whatever you think of him,” Allen said. “This is kind of the worst-case scenario for our system.”

Allen said the circumstances raise the question of whether or not a Supreme Court nominee should be granted the same presumption of innocence as a criminal defendant.

“What’s complicated here is that, if you apply the standards you would in a criminal trial, that would give Kavanaugh a certain presumption of innocence, and this is somewhat different because he’s not being accused of a crime and threatened with jail or fines,” Allen said. “He’s having a very public job interview for the job of his life — a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Simon said it’s unjust to assume Kavanaugh’s guilt without a full investigation, but that Supreme Court nominees should be held to the highest of standards.

“Our country was founded on the core principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and I would hesitate to remove that right from anyone,” Simon wrote. “With that said, I think that appointing someone to such a position of protected power without careful consideration of these allegations is tantamount to a constitutional crisis.”

Allen said that, whether or not the accusations against Kavanaugh are true, his confirmation could send a troubling statement to survivors of sexual assault.

“We’re basically a couple steps away from the possibility of a Supreme Court justice around for 30-40 years that a good chunk of the public believes is a rapist, and that’s highly problematic,” Allen said. “Frankly, I think it would be of concern, the fact that, if Kavanaugh does get confirmed, what statement that would say to the millions of women who are survivors of sexual assault.”

The only way to remove a Supreme Court justice from the bench is through impeachment. Only one justice has ever been impeached, and he was not convicted. That was in 1803.

Allen said appointing Supreme Court nominees for life no longer makes sense for the country.

“I have always thought life tenure was a little bit problematic, but now I’m pretty much a believer that our political system is not good enough — is not effective enough to make decisions that are binding for 30 or 40 years.”