It’s 1991 again in America. Has anything really changed?
Twenty-seven years ago, Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill reluctantly stepped into an unforgiving public spotlight to accuse U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. He was confirmed anyway.
This time, California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford has come forward reluctantly to accuse U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Her act of courage raises so many questions:
Will Republicans in the Senate do the right thing and postpone their vote on this man, who has had credibility problems throughout the entire hearing process?
Will the citizens of this country stand back and allow the Senate to confirm a man to the highest court in the land with what amounts to an accusation of attempted rape hanging over his head?
Have we learned nothing from the tribulations and aftermath of the Thomas/Hill debacle, when then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden refused to allow three other women to corroborate Hill’s allegations under oath? (And has since apologized for his terrible judgment?)
Has the #MeToo Movement not proved that women hold onto painful secrets of sexual harassment and assault for years and years and years because they know they will be disbelieved, mocked, humiliated and/or denied work if they step forward to accuse powerful men?
And does anyone really find it hard to believe that the culture of male privilege — responsible for producing the perversions of men as varied as President Trump, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, Leslie Moonves, Al Franken, Louis CK, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons — could also produce a drunken prep school senior who assaulted a 15-year-old girl at a party?
Ford, 51, teaches at Palo Alto University and trains graduate students in clinical psychology. She first stepped forward anonymously, then allowed herself to be identified by the Washington Post on Sunday in order to have some control over her own story:
Around 1982, at a summertime party, Ford alleges, Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed and ground his body against hers. When she tried to scream, she told the Post, he put his hand over her mouth. She was 15; Kavanaugh was 17.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
This image made me feel sick. I was attacked in college by a former boyfriend who tried to strangle me. You never forget the panic of not being able to breathe.
She got away, she said, only because a classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, “sending all three tumbling” and she used the moment to escape and lock herself in a bathroom. Kavanaugh’s response is, essentially, to call Ford a liar.
“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” Kavanaugh, 53, said in a statement issued by the White House on Friday, two days before Ford allowed the Post to publish her name. "I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
His denials have been corroborated by Judge, a filmmaker and writer who told the Weekly Standard and the New York Times that no such incident had ever occurred. And yet, as the Post — and others have pointed out — Judge published a 1997 memoir, “Wasted,” in which he chronicles moments of blackout drunkenness in high school.
Kavanaugh was also defended in a letter of support signed by 65 women who knew him in high school.
This is just specious. As a friend of mine put it, “That’s like saying an arsonist is innocent because he didn’t burn my house down.”
It’s easy to understand why Ford initially did not want her name out there. What’s the point of subjecting yourself to the ugliness inflicted on women who step forward to impugn the character of men who pretend to be better than they are? Anita Hill still gets hate mail.
And yet, just as I had no trouble believing Hill, I have no trouble believing Ford.
Her account of the alleged attack, the Post said, was corroborated by her therapist’s notes from 2012, her husband, and a lie detector test administered by a retired FBI agent. Lawmakers owe it to the American people to hear her out; she must be allowed to tell senators what happened to her.
Thankfully, some senators are insisting that Republicans put on the brakes. “This was a very brave step to come forward,” Sen. Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat, tweeted Sunday. “It is more important than ever to hit the pause button on Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote until we can fully investigate these serious and disturbing allegations. We cannot rush to move forward under this cloud.”
When I first heard that Kavanaugh had been accused of assaulting an unnamed woman back in high school, I figured no one who had the power to stop his nomination, or at least slow it down, would act.
But his accuser is no longer anonymous. She is risking her privacy and reputation to be heard. She should not be ignored.
I’m not suggesting Kavanaugh be prosecuted on charges he assaulted a 15-year-old girl 36 years ago. But I do think a criminal investigation is in order, just as it was for Moonves, whom the LAPD investigated after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s. No charges were filed, but after others came forward, Moonves was forced to leave his powerful job as the head of CBS.