Screams rained down from the gallery onto the Senate floor last Saturday as Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by multiple women, was confirmed to the Supreme Court. The raw terror and misery of the protesters conveyed a fresh sense of how morally broken our government is two years into the Trump administration. I wonder how the hell things got this bad.
The Kavanaugh hearings and subsequent confirmation seemed to be a referendum on the way the United States treats cases of sexual assault. On one side is the rhetoric of “believe survivors” and on the other is “innocent until proven guilty.” To varying degrees, both of these approaches are flawed, and those flaws teach Americans not only to reflexively jump to conclusions, but also to never ignore and condescend those who come forward.
“Believe survivors” is, to me, the more respectable of the two polar ends of the discussion. Christine Blasey Ford was a credible witness whose strong testimony compelled me, and millions of other Americans, to call for a full investigation to evaluate the truth of her claims. I believe her testimony, but her word alone isn’t enough to convict Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Ford understood that, which is why she repeatedly welcomed an independent FBI investigation. “Believe survivors,” shouldn’t mean accepting their side because they’ve made an accusation; it should mean finding their word credible enough to seriously listen and investigate.
With that said, I am troubled by the calls for Price School of Public Policy professor James Moore to be fired because of his poorly timed email to the Price school, in which he said “accusers sometimes lie.” His statement isn’t incorrect. Of the extreme minority of rapes that do go reported, 5.2 percent are found to be false according to a meta-analysis conducted at the Queensland University of Technology. While that’s an extremely low proportion, it isn’t negligible; thus, an accusation shouldn’t be treated as proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
That’s what an investigation is for: to discover the truth.
Conversely, the FBI found that only 8 percent of rape accusations are determined to be false after investigation. For GOP senators to understand that statistic, and to not call for an investigation with the full capacities of the FBI is, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut claimed, “tantamount to a cover-up.”
On the opposite side of the argument is the “innocent until proven guilty” approach. This argument is based on an integral value of equitable criminal justice, where presumption of innocence is the norm, but it has been grossly misapplied and misrepresented by those using it to defend Kavanaugh.
The key word is “until,” which implies some sort of process. In a court of law, the process implied would be an investigation. We say “innocent until proven guilty” because it implies an effort to discover evidence of guilt, or lack thereof. For that to happen, there must be at least an exploration of the issue. This has not happened to a sufficient extent during the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Republicans have tried to have it both ways. By calling upon principles of equitable, criminal justice, such as “innocent until proven guilty,” they equated the Kavanaugh hearing to a criminal trial, yet failed to execute the due process a criminal trial demands. A key aspect of criminal trials is the presentation of evidence found from investigations which take time to complete. The investigation the Senate begrudgingly permitted under extreme political pressure was so limited in its scope and time frame that it would be considered inadequate for any credible sexual assault allegation, much less one to determine the moral soundness of a Supreme Court nominee.
Agents weren’t allowed to issue subpoenas or issue orders for physical evidence and they were limited in who they were allowed to interview. The FBI interviewed only 10 witnesses total, and only six involved in the Ford’s allegations, ignoring requests by Democrats to interview over a dozen other witnesses. Since this investigation was outside the regular practice for the FBI and initiated by the White House, the Trump administration was able to set the parameters. Considering that Trump lied about the restrictions he put on the FBI, saying he gave them “free rein” when he in fact applied strict limitations, I find no credibility in this toothless investigation. Consequently, I find no reason to believe this accusation was actually treated within the context of “innocent until proven guilty,” because no effort was ever made to “prove guilty.”
Kavanaugh might have been qualified to serve on the court if these allegations were investigated, but neither he nor his right-wing political allies wished to search for truth, because they either don’t trust women or don’t care about sexual assault. Kavanaugh will hold his seat on the bench for decades, and during that time he may hinder the progress of women’s rights, and will principally serve as a symbol of this country’s disregard for women, survivors and the truth.
It’s time for a new country. Election day is Nov. 6. Vote.
Nathaniel Hyman is a sophomore majoring in public policy. His column, “Social Anxieties,” runs every other Tuesday.