The best reporting of the #MeToo movement has shown that when journalists examine all the possible holes in an accuser’s account, find corroborating witnesses and documentary evidence, and give the accused the opportunity to respond, they make the victim’s story more powerful. (Men can sexually assault men, women can sexually assault women, and women can sexually assault men. But the vast majority of these allegations are of males assaulting females.)
Unfortunately, we must also accept the reality that the fact-finding process will, by its very nature, cause pain to both parties. The New York Times editorial page on Monday blasted how Christine Blasey Ford has been treated since she went public with her account of a frightening sexual attack by a then-teenage Brett Kavanaugh. It noted that the 11 Republican men on the Judiciary Committee brought in a female prosecutor to “chip away” at Ford’s testimony.
Certainly, the hearing was odd, flawed, and ripe for parody on Saturday Night Live. But the Republican questioning of Ford was not particularly harsh, and while it was intended to knock her credibility, that’s the purpose of adversarial proceedings. In the end, Ford’s answers and her demeanor buttressed her account, whereas Kavanaugh’s histrionics led some to question his fitness for the bench.
Conservative women are angry about Kavanaugh—and they think other voters are, too
I am one of the many women who experienced sexual assaults earlier in life and never told anyone, until I wrote a story about these events for Slate in 2012. It was at the time of the Jerry Sandusky trial, and many victims were questioned about why they had kept quiet. So I explained why I didn’t tell. Like Ford, I have a vivid and visceral recollection of the assaults and a missing memory of the peripheral details, especially what happened afterward.
In one instance, when I was 15, I was visiting my best friend, and her father drove me home after dinner. He parked in front of my house and started babbling about how a man gets angry and frustrated when a wife won’t meet his needs. Then he lunged at me, putting his hands on my breasts and his mouth on mine. I pushed him off, escaped from the car, and got to my front door. But the rest of the night, what happened after I entered my home and pretended everything was fine, is a blank.
I have also spent the past several years reporting on the injustices done to accused students—almost all men—in campus sexual-assault proceedings under Title IX, the federal law that forbids sex discrimination in schools. (Here is my Atlantic series on the subject.) During the Obama administration, that law became the basis for vast college bureaucracies that govern the sexual behavior of students.
On campuses, many Title IX allegations spring from sexual encounters (often lubricated by alcohol) between young adults that both parties agree began consensually. Frequently, an allegation turns on whether the accused failed to follow the campus rules of “affirmative consent,” which essentially requires that unambiguous consent, preferably verbal, be obtained for each touch, each time, even between established partners.