On Monday, women across the United States used the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors to share photos of themselves wearing black, and participating in a nation-wide walk out in support of Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, two women who have accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Though this alleged crime happened decades ago, the repercussions are horrifying — especially since Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court would see him presiding over cases that deal with sensitive topics, including abortion and sexual assault.
“I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect.”
In an exclusive interview on #TheStory, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly denied accusations of sexual misconduct that have threatened to derail his confirmation. https://t.co/ZexbiQZjf2 pic.twitter.com/pQEKflPKW5
— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 25, 2018
This story continues to unfold — on Monday, the New York Times reported that a page from Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook “offers a glimpse of the teenage years of the man who is now President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee,” including what may be a veiled boast about a woman he allegedly slept with. But Kavanaugh continues to deny all allegations; on Monday night, he and his wife, Ashley, gave an interview to Fox News where they maintained his innocence.
Here’s everything you need to know about Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him and what this means for survivors of sexual assault moving forward.
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Who is Brett Kavanaugh?
The 53-year-old was born in D.C and grew up in Maryland; he served as counsel and staff secretary for George W. Bush, before being confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006. In his role with the Court of Appeals, he had final say in thousands of cases. According to the Washington Post, in his time on the circuit, Kavanaugh became known for his conservative views — especially when it comes to abortion. In October 2017, he drew ire from some when he opposed a D.C. ruling that allowed a detained 17-year-old immigrant to receive an abortion. Of the 6-3 ruling, Kavanaugh said the majority had “badly erred” in their judgement, and wrote, “the government has permissible interests in favouring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating an abortion.”
In July 2018, after the retirement of longtime Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, with the president calling him, “one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.” The Supreme Court is the nation’s highest court, with justices selected by the standing president and appointed for life. Supreme Court justices are the final arbiters of the law, handling controversial and often precedent-setting cases, such as Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights case, and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States. So, it’s a big deal to be elected. And just where elected justices stand, politically, is an even bigger deal. Kavanaugh’s nomination was met with vocal outcry from many Democrats and those on the left, who worry that a largely conservative court will affect many laws and rights. Many thought his confirmation was all-but-guaranteed, until the first allegation of sexual assault made headlines earlier this summer.
What’s this about a letter?
Shortly after Kavanaugh’s nomination, on July 30, 2018, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California received a confidential letter from a woman alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high school party in the 1980s. On September 16, the accuser revealed herself as Dr. Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University. In the initial letter, as well as subsequent interview with the Washington Post, Ford describes an attempted rape in which Kavanaugh — who was two years older than Ford and then attending Georgetown Prep — allegedly pushed her into a bedroom, pinned her down and attempted to disrobe her while covering her mouth. Speaking to the Post, Ford alleges that both Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were “maniacally” laughing during the assault. “They locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help,” Ford wrote in her initial letter. “With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me.” Ford further alleges in the letter that Judge (whose name was initially redacted) said “mixed words to Kavanaugh,” ranging from “go for it” to “stop.” Ford says she was able to escape the room after Kavanaugh and Judge fell off the bed and started fighting with each other.
Ford — who initially contacted the Washington Post in July after Kavanaugh’s name appeared on the shortlist for the Supreme Court — feared speaking out on the record, worried about the effect it would have on her family. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she said. But, after being approached by reporters after the letter leaked, she came forward. “These are the ills that I was trying to avoid,” she told the Post. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”
What’s the background on the Ford’s allegations
Ford first disclosed details of the incident in 2012, while in couple’s therapy with her husband. While the therapist’s notes — which were shared by Ford — don’t mention Kavanaugh by name, they note she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys school,” who became “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” (The therapist’s notes also say Ford was attacked by four boys, which she says is an error on the therapist’s part). In a later interview, Ford’s husband told the Washington Post that he recalls his wife using Kavanaugh’s name directly, and fearing that he may one day be nominated to the Supreme Court. In addition, Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent, the results of which showed she was being truthful. Since her identity was revealed, the New York Times reports that Ford has received death threats and has relocated with her family.
However, in a statement sent to the Post, Kavanaugh denied all allegations, writing:”I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” In another statement issued after Ford’s identity was revealed, Kavanaugh once more denied the allegations: “This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or anyone.” He also went on to say he would be willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee to refute the “false allegation” and “defend [his] integrity.” Mark Judge has also denied the allegations against himself and Kavanaugh.
Who is Deborah Ramirez?
Late Sunday, September 23, The New Yorker released a bombshell piece with a second allegation of sexual assault against the nominee — this time, from his university days. Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s, alleges that he exposed himself to her at a dormitory party during the 1983-84 school year, thrusting his penis in her face and causing her to touch it without her consent. Ramirez recalls sitting in a circle playing a drinking game, during which she says she quickly became intoxicated. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she told the publication. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” After attempting to push the person away (amid cheers of “kiss it”), Ramirez says she unintentionally touched Kavanaugh’s penis — something that, as a devout Catholic, shook and embarrassed her. “I was… ashamed and humiliated,” she said.
She also told the New Yorker that she clearly remembers Kavanaugh — then a freshman at the school — laughing and pulling up his pants, saying, “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” A classmate of Ramirez’s, who declined to be identified, corroborated the incident, and said he is “100% sure” that Ramirez told him at the time that Kavanaugh was the person who exposed himself to Ramirez. Kavanaugh has further denied these allegations.
What do these allegations say about Kavanaugh’s character?
Hidden in the New Yorker’s extensive piece are several alarming revelations, among them an allegation by Judge’s university girlfriend of three years, Elisabeth Rasor. Judge has tried to paint his and Kavanaugh’s actions as youthful “horseplay,” but Rasor has a different take on Judge’s time at Georgetown Prep. Speaking to the publication, she alleges that Judge told her about his participation in an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman.
There is a gang rape allegation against Mark Judge in the story about the second misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh pic.twitter.com/4jGhy0OATk
— Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell) September 24, 2018
While Rasor acknowledges that she doesn’t know if Kavanaugh was involved in this particular situation, the allegation of gang rape has also been brought forward by attorney Michael Avenatti, who tweeted that he too has a client with “credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge.” If true, this unnamed woman could be a third accuser.
While Rasor acknowledges that she doesn’t know if Kavanaugh was involved in this particular incident, the story does contribute to a growing body of evidence that, while circumstantial, still indicates the Supreme Court nominee’s high school self wasn’t exactly a stand-up guy. And so does a Sept. 24 New York Times report about a term — “Renate Alumnius” —that appears 14 times in Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook. According to the article, “the word ‘Renate’ appears… on individuals’ pages and in a group photo of nine football players, including Judge Kavanaugh, who were described as the ‘Renate Alumni.’ It is a reference to Renate Schroeder, then a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school. Two of Judge Kavanaugh’s classmates say the mentions of Renate were part of the football players’ unsubstantiated boasting about their conquests.”
Interestingly, Renate Schroeder Dolphin was one of 65 women who sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month in support of Kavanaugh. It said, in part, that they Kavanaugh “has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect.”
She didn’t know about the references to “Renate Alumni” when she signed the letter, and now says “the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.”
And on Monday, the Montgomery County Sentinel reported that there may be a fourth allegation against Kavanaugh. According to the Maryland paper, “while investigators weren’t specific and spoke on background, they said they are looking at allegations made against Kavanaugh during his senior year in high school after an anonymous witness voluntarily came forward to speak with them this weekend.”
What was the public’s reaction to these allegations?
It has been a difficult month for survivors of sexual assault.
Since the allegations were first revealed, women and allies across social media have been speaking out in support of Ford, and now Ramirez. Shortly after her identity was revealed, 200 women from Ford’s high school signed a public letter of support.
“We believe Dr. Blasey Ford and are grateful that she came forward to tell her story,” the letter reads. “It demands a thorough and independent investigation before the senate can reasonably vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.” In a tweet, actress Julia-Louis Dreyfus — an alumna of the all-girls school that Ford attended — also offered her support.
I was class of ‘79 & signed this letter. https://t.co/5ssttu9uzT
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) September 17, 2018
On Friday September 21 President Trump tweeted, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed.” (Trump himself has been accused by 22 women of sexual misconduct).
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018
Not only is this tweet incredibly trivializing and offensive, it’s just *straight up* incorrect. Women who experience sexual violence often don’t report it immediately — if ever — for a myriad of reasons, including fear of retaliation from their abuser or fear of not being believed. In Canada, 53 percent of Canadian sexual violence survivors said they didn’t report incidents of sexual assault because they aren’t confident in the police, while two-thirds said they’re not confident in the court system.
Trump was wrong, and Twitter let him know it. There was immediate backlash as celebrities, advocates and every day men and women shared their own stories of reporting alongside the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.
I was 7 the first time I was sexually assaulted. He was a relative of my mom’s second husband. I told my folks and they sent me away. #WhyIDidntReport
— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) September 21, 2018
Because I didn’t want to lose my job or make people think I was a drama queen. #WhyIDidntReport
— Lili Reinhart (@lilireinhart) September 21, 2018
So, what happens next?
As of publication, the White House has continued to stand behind Kavanaugh. On the other side of the floor, several Democratic senators are calling for him to step down, and for an investigation by the FBI. For her part, despite the threats to her safety, Ford has committed to testifying about her assault before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27 — which means she’ll be facing her alleged abuser for the first time in over 35 years.