Of all the things a Judge should be, honest is arguably the most important.
I am deeply concerned not just by the behavior Kavanugh is accused of earlier in life but perhaps even more so by his complete denial of the same. I am deeply concerned (though not surprised) that a nominee for the US Supreme Court might be dishonest in such a major way.
Obviously, this is prefaced on the fact that I believe Dr. Ford. Though this isn’t really the point, I can’t help but give just a little background here: As a prior sex-crimes prosecutor, I have heard dozens of allegations, and I like to believe I am a good judge of their credibility. What she remembers, what hurt the most, what is burned into her memory, are exactly the things real victims remember.
Even doubters believed Dr. Ford was telling the truth. These doubters quieted their cognitive dissonance by telling themselves the easier myth that Dr. Ford was simply mistaken. That is, no one wanted to believe she was lying (especially so convincingly), so the easy way out was to say she must be mistaken instead. But trauma doesn’t work that way.
I know who hung up my photo and threw darts at it as a child. I know who pushed me out of a car after assaulting me. I know who asked me to take my underwear off in a shed. I may not remember the number of darts thrown, the make and model of the car, or the color of my underwear. But I don’t just forget the identity of the people who did these things. Or the way they laughed about it.
When someone claims to be 100% certain of the length of time something took, of a series of random numbers, or of, say, someone else’s motive — then is the time to question that person’s credibility or potential error. But when someone is 100% certain of an assaulter’s identity — especially a non-stranger assaulter — that’s not usually the place for error.
And don’t get me wrong, I see the counter argument : I see the immense harm such an accusation could do to someone’s life-long goals and hard work. I see the incentives and poor motives someone might use to make such false accusations, especially in this political environment. I also recognize that there are many more nuanced issues potentially at play in any given assault (or believed assault): misunderstandings, false or biased perceptions, changed memories after being persuaded by friends/family, etc. But those are topics for another discussion.
But back to the point: even if you think Dr. Ford was lying or mistaken, there is still a problem worth thinking about:
What if someone guilty of a past assault were honest about it? What then?
What if Kavanaugh had admitted to the accusations? Would we have given him a chance? What if he was honest about it the very next day after it happened? If he was charged and pleaded guilty, went to his therapy, learned to define boundaries and be respectful of all humans, if this had never been a secret, but a fact nonetheless, one that the public learned about, would we have allowed him to be nominated?
Have we as a society created an opportunity for people to learn and be forgiven?
Arguably we have not. Especially not when it comes to sex offenses.
The vast majority of folks in our society will mentally throw away anyone who has committed a sex offense, regardless of the circumstances of that offense or the age of the offender. The offenders are labeled, segregated, lowered. Permanently.
In almost every arena, these offenders will become second-class citizens. They will often have second-class jobs. They will often have second-class housing. They will often have second-class voting rights. They will often have second-class opinions of themselves. And they will be second-guessed in all aspects.
Obviously, in some instances, this is necessary. Safety is paramount, and some of these offenders will never be safe, so they must be monitored.
But what about the others? Sex crimes are broad, and they sweep in many people with many different abilities for reform. I don’t doubt that some misunderstandings have resulted in accusations of intentional harm. What a shame.
I myself have been disrespectful of boundaries before. I know I have. But I am immensely respectful of those boundaries now. I have learned. If someone had labeled my past disrespect a crime, would I be stuck in second-class land as well?
What about you? Have you been inappropriate before? Have you disregarded boundaries? Disrespected denials? Misunderstood signals? Could someone rightfully, or even questionably, accuse you of a crime? Could their opinion of a given incident be believed and result in your condemnation? Could you have been swept into the overbreadth and severe side-effects of the American criminal justice system?
If so, would you have deserved the social downfall that would then follow?
And what about before you acted? Was there someone to turn to regarding your desires/questions/hormones? Was there a place to talk?
Have we as a society created a way for people to get help before something bad happens?
Do we allow sexual issues to be discussed openly? Is there a place where non-contact pedophiles can get help without being booted out through the city doors? Where hormonal teens can get advice on scenarios (past or future) that leave them feeling ashamed, for instance?
Is there a safe zone for sexual honesty?
I am a strong believer in the promise of society to create these safe zones (or at least fair zones). I am a strong believer in the ability of society to reform and forgive. I believe in Restorative Justice (though the specific practice needs more research before it bares its promise), and I sincerely hope we as a society can start a dialogue, a method for honest education and rehabilitation. And a way to forgiveness for those who deserve it.
Until then, I certainly don’t condone any acts of disrespect (especially sexual disrespect), and I certainly don’t condone the hiding of/lying about such acts, but I ask this question: Is there really any surprise that people do hide these things and lie about them?
I think it’s time we be honest with ourselves about this. And make it safe to do so. It’s time to stop throwing people away and seeing in binary. Otherwise, what incentive do we give an offender to stop? What incentive to do we give an offender to be forthcoming?
I fear that our shaming approach to all things sexual creates the offender, teaches them to hide, results then in victims, teaches them to hide, and never forgives either.
It’s time to be open, honest, and kind to both.
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