Collateral Damage

A few days ago on the podcast “The Daily,” reporter Michael Barbaro interviewed a group of teenaged girls in Brooklyn to ask them about their views on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school.

Among the amazing disclosures the girls made were that for most of the week-plus that the confirmation process was so prominently in the news, the girls hadn’t actually spoken to any of the adults in their lives about what was happening. Two girls who attended private high schools said they had been allowed to watch some of the live coverage at school. One girl said no adult had discussed it with her until her dad made an angry comment about it. In response to his daughter saying that it wasn’t fair that people were attacking Blasey Ford, her father said he was mad that people were trying to ruin Kavanaugh’s life. His response made the girl really angry, and she had a bitter edge to her voice while recounting it. I wonder if her father even knows how she felt about his comment. I’m so tired of hearing men trot out the by-now exhausted trope, “I have daughters of my own… BUT [….going after a man for what he did in high school….well…]

One girl noted that Blasey Ford wouldn’t have come forward and talked about the assault, and ruined her own life in the process, for no reason. “You are not going to lie about something that will  affect you forever just to keep someone out of office,” especially someone with that much power, she pointed out. You know you are going to be attacked and invalidated and made to feel stupid, the girl concluded.

A majority of the girls had female friends who had been sexually assaulted or they themselves had experienced uncomfortable and unwanted sexually threatening situations with boys or men. One girl said that friends who’d been assaulted always had permanent triggers of the assault, and she compared that to what Blasey Ford had said about the laughter she said she heard from Kavanaugh and his friend during and after the assault. One girl in the podcast group had come close to being assaulted by an unknown man in her neighborhood as she made her way home one night after visiting a friend, but fortunately she had managed to run away. When she got home, adrenaline pumping, and told her mother, her mom blamed her for being out too late. It was her own fault. After that, she confided only in trusted friends, and eventually she just stopped talking about what happened, a pattern that other girls said was common.

The message the girls took from the approval of Kavanaugh as a Justice on the Supreme Court was “that anyone can get away with anything as long as they have enough power,” one girl said. “People who watched [it] will think if he got away with it, I can too. Maybe I won’t get caught either.”  “It feels like a big old ‘I don’t care about your situation’ from the higher ups in government,” another said. “It felt like they said, ‘We don’t care if you like it or not, you have to take it.’ They don’t care about our opinion, our safety, even though we make up a big percentage of people.”

The high point of the interview was when Michael Barbaro asked the girls this question: “Should what you do in high school, now, follow you around for the rest of your life?”

The girls said yes, it should. “There are certain things …that follow the victims forever, so if it follows the victims forever, then you have to deal with it too, since it’s your fault,” said one girl. “You have a moral compass when you’re 15, 16 that will tell you if it’s right or wrong, so you’re consciously deciding to do something wrong or you’re consciously deciding to do something right. Which is the same thing you’re going to be doing the rest of your life.” The rest of your life, as in, a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

But President Trump is worried about young men, fearing it’s a bad time to be a young man. He worries about the collateral damage that may occur if women are going to feel free to come forward and accuse men of sexual transgressions. Trump has 20-odd women charging him with a range of assaults and rape. I’d like to know if he is worried about men being falsely accused–because they didn’t commit the assault–or is the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief actually worried that now the behavior discussed in the Kavanaugh case–the all-too-common “boys-will-be-boys” assaults that he normalizes–will be something men and boys will have to actually worry about?? Wait, who changed the rules in mid-game??

The reaction to the Kavanaugh hearings was so revealing. As long as women have been collateral damage throughout the long human history of sexual violence, harassment, and degradation, it’s been OK. Now that a man may potentially be collateral damage in a “he-said-she-said” (or should I say, “he SCREAMED-she-said”) situation such as this, we had better not allow that to happen. I’m not saying it’s ever good to have someone unjustly accused of something and found guilty of something they didn’t do. I’m just pointing out that, for a very long time, it’s been acceptable for women to have to keep sexual assault quiet, live with the consequences for the rest of their lives, and chalk it up to “boys will be boys” or other patriarchal societal or religious fallacies that normalize such behavior as men’s right and entitlement.

And there’s another element in the Kavanaugh case. Obviously, I believe Christine Blasey Ford and I do not believe Brett Kavanaugh. However, I know that people make terrible mistakes in judgment, at all ages. Most of the time, one hopes for an apology as an acknowledgment of the wrong done and as a way to promote healing and moving on as much as it is possible. Caitlin Flanagan recently wrote in The Atlantic about her own experience of an attempted date rape in high school, but in her case, the boy who assaulted her actually apologized a few years afterwards, making all the difference in how she came to terms with her experience of sexual assault. “Teenagers make mistakes, some of them serious,” Flanagan wrote. “One measure of a kid’s character is what he or she does afterward.” Flanagan recounts how the boy apologized 2 years later, when she was home from college for the summer working at a department store. She describes herself at the time of the apology as a far more confident person, about to transfer to a great university, no longer suicidal and depressed. As she was ringing up a sale at the store, she saw someone in her peripheral vision approaching the register. But when she finished the sale and looked up, he was gone. “A few minutes later, I saw him coming back; it was the boy who’d tried to rape me. He had tears in his eyes, and he seemed almost overwrought. And right there—in the A&S department store in the Smith Haven Mall—he apologized profusely.” She told him she forgave him. “It was a weird ambush of intense guilt and apology, and it was the wrong place and time—but the thing was, I really did forgive him. My life had moved on, and things were better. It felt good to get the apology and—as it always does—even better to forgive him. He’d done a terrible thing, but he’d done what he could to make it right. I held nothing against him, and I still don’t.”

I believe Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape Christine Blasey Ford when he was in high school and only failed to do so because he was too drunk to get her one-piece bathing suit off before his equally drunk cohort in crime, Mark Judge, jumped on the bed, causing all three to topple off. Kavanaugh never apologized or took responsibility for what he did during the 3 decades that have passed. His acts caused lasting damage, and he’s done nothing to try to make that right. He was apparently too busy creating a false persona that couldn’t afford to make amends to the young woman (or women) he abused or treated badly in his youth so he could get that seat on the Court that he and the other members of Congress believe he is entitled to. He didn’t fool anyone but a bunch of old entitled white people in the Senate when he feigned ignorance about his yearbook remarks about the Devils Triangle and other sexual references.

So, yes, the mistake of a 17-year-old kid matters years later. The teenaged girls on that podcast understand that, but Congress does not.



2 thoughts on “Collateral Damage

  1. I hope the memory of Kavanaugh’s petulant crybaby performance during the confirmation hearings will stay fresh in our minds. I hope no one will forget that during the short 1-week FBI investigation (coverup), 30 or so people who actually knew Brett at the time of Dr. Ford’s assault tried desperately to come forward to the FBI. Now we have 2 sex offenders on the Supreme Court deciding on women’s right to abortion.

    I know your readers will enjoy and share this clever, important, humorous-but-also-sad song — — by the brilliant Lynzy Lab, “Scary Time”, based on Trump’s actual statement after the Kavanaugh confirmation:

    “It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.”
    –President Donald Trump

  2. When a male friend and I were talking about why many men engage in sexual assault, he summed it up succinctly. “Because they can.” The Kavanaugh spectacle enshrines the physical strength advantage most men have as “tough for the weak” fact. In the Kavanaugh case, it’s the triumph of brawn over what’s moral or decent. Who cares about collateral damage?

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