Besides being vaguely aware of the Brett Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations, I have not kept up with the case. Perhaps it is unsurprising to see another high-profile man being accused of sexual assault, and in turn being supported by other high-profile men, even before a testimony from the victim has been heard. Or perhaps it is because as a South African woman, I am more concerned with the deeply disturbing headlines we’re constantly seeing locally.

Nonetheless, it is important for me, and for you, to know why the Brett Kavanaugh case is happening. The outcome will inevitably ripple internationally, affecting many things – such as how we react to, prosecute, and speak about the sexual violence affecting us politically, socially and legally.

Quick catch-up on the facts:

  • Brett Kavanaugh is a Republican judge who is being considered as a US Supreme Court nominee.
  • Dr Christine Blasey Ford is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and researcher at Stanford University.
  • In July this year, Dr Ford came forward with her story to her senator, Dianne Feinstein, requesting confidentiality.
  • The story was leaked, and the public nature forced Dr Ford to come forward publicly.
  • Since then, Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of two other instances of misconduct by Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick
  • President Donald Trump has supported Brett Kavanaugh, saying in a press conference that the accusations are a ‘big, fat con job’ to undermine the Republican party.
  • The allegations have inspired a wave of public sentiment, endorsing how important it is to believe sexual assault victims when they come forward.

The Hearing

The testimonies of both Brett Kavanaugh and Dr Ford were heard yesterday. Following the hearing, it has been announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether or not to recommend Brett Kavanugh’s Supreme Court confirmation today (Friday, Sept. 28).

Here are the highlights from the hearing:

Senator Chuck Grassley opened the hearing chastising the timing of the allegation

‘Only at an eleventh hour, on the eve of judge Kavanaugh’s nomination vote, did the ranking member refer the evidence to the FBI,’ Chuck Grassley stated.

This is a common attitude in court proceedings, where the validity of victim allegations are based on the time period between the event and proceedings. It totally neglects the psychological effects that hinder victims from speaking out, not to mention the fear of repercussions victims face when deciding whether or not to open a case.

Senator Feinstein opened her statement by introducing Dr Ford

This is something that Chuck Grassley failed to do. A move that insists on humanising her, rather than subconsciously encouraging the act of theorising the person as a ‘victim’ and that only.

Senator Feinstein then explained a very problematic nature of how women are treated when coming forward with their stories of sexual violence. ‘Too often, women’s memories and credibility come under assault’, she said. ‘In essence, they are put on trial and forced to defend themselves.’

This sentiment reflects the practice of putting women’s reputations and state of sobriety on trial, instead of putting emphasis on the allegation at hand. Holes in memories surrounding the event are used as evidence against them, a tactic clearly illustrated when prosecutor Rachel Mitchell questioned Dr Ford.

Dr Ford gives her testimony

‘I am here today, not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened…’ she said, addressing the allegations questioning her timing and motives.
She then pointed out that she has recounted the events twice before, bringing attention to a victim’s need to constantly repeat their stories, which can bring on panic attacks and other emotional side effects triggered by PTSD.

‘I truly wish I could provide detailed answers to all of the questions that have been and will be asked,’ she continued.’I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget.’

She then recounts how at a house party Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, pushed her into a bedroom and laughed as Brett sexually assaulted her before she escaped and hid in a bathroom. ‘Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter of the two, and their having fun at my expense.’

Senator Mazie Hirono questions the prosecutor’s tactics

Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell repeatedly asked Dr Ford questions regarding the music playing during the event as well as whether she had been drunk or on medication.

‘We all know that the prosecutor is asking Dr Ford lots of questions about what happened before and after, but not during the attack,’ Mazie Hirono said, bringing attention to the incompetent approach. ‘The prosecutor should know that sexual-assault survivors often do not remember … information such as what happened before or after the event, and yet she will persist in asking these questions all to undermine the memory and the credibility of Dr Ford.’

Senators Blumenthal and Brookers’ messages to Dr Christine Blasey Ford

‘I have found your testimony powerful and credible and I believe you’, Senator Blumenthal said.

‘How we deal with survivors who come forward right now is unacceptable’, Corey Brooker pointed out, and then continued to say, ‘the way we deal with this unfortunately allows for the continued darkness of this culture to exist.’

He commended Dr Ford for her bravery addressing her by saying, ‘Your brilliance, shining a light onto this and speaking your truth, is nothing short of heroic.’

Brett Kavanaugh calls the allegations an ‘orchestrated political hit’.

He repeatedly cried, banged his hands on the podium and lamented the effect the allegations have had and will have on his career and family. A deep concern expressed by President Trump as well. A tactic that we see often in the media where perpetrators’ actions are belittled by focusing on their humanity and appealing to public empathy. This trivialises the effect the perpetrator’s actions had on the victim.

Brett Kavanaugh denied the allegations vehemently but said he had no doubt that Dr Ford was assaulted – by someone else. He also interrupted senator Feinstein during her questioning. Senator Kamala Harris then asked him if he had watched Dr Ford’s testimony, to which he replied that he hadn’t as he had been preparing his own.