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Lessons from the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings

Lessons from the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings


Millions of people around the world, including many here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have been glued to their television sets, mobile devices and computers since last Thursday, following the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings and issues related thereto.

The confirmation hearings, which had earlier garnered significant interest because of Kavanaugh’s views on abortion rights and presidential power, suddenly saw an exponential increase in interest when professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school in the early 1980s — an allegation Kavanaugh denies.

The United States Senate and the procedures they follow to appoint judges to the Supreme Court may be light years away from SVG, but the issues that are being raised are as applicable in Kingstown as they are in Washington D.C.

Dr Ford’s bravery in coming forward has emboldened thousands of other women across the world who have now gone public, many for the first time, with their own accounts of having been sexually assaulted, some more than 60 years ago. Of course, Dr. Ford’s account and those of many of the women are being doubted and dismissed as figments of their imaginations.

The fact that women remember differently from men has much to do with the differences between a perpetrator and a victim. A victim of sexual assault will never forget what happened, whereas for the perpetrator, who may have just been satisfying a sick desire, the incident was perhaps just another unremarkable incident on an unremarkable day.

The widespread interest in the Kavanaugh hearing also reflects the fact that what escaped condemnation 30 years ago risks genuine sanction today. We also now know for sure that the days when sexual assault allegations could be swept under the carpet are coming to an end, even here in SVG.

But proving women’s cases is easier said than done. Because of lack of evidence when the assault occurred a long time ago, the unreliability of memory, and the efforts of perpetrators to protect themselves, those who participated in this degradation of women still have an umbrella of doubt that offers them shelter for their misdeeds.

Even if decades old cases have little chance of succeeding, what the Kavanaugh case has done is to teach: today’s victims of sexual assault that they can reclaim their power by speaking out; that one is never too young to begin building good character and reputation; one is known by the company one keeps; and the truth sets one free.