Brett Kavanaugh, US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, has been accused of sexually assaulting a girl in the 1980s. Several commentators are uncomfortable judging Kavanaugh for his actions as a teenager, but attempted rape shouldn’t be shrugged off as a young man’s mistake.
Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist in California, told the Washington Post that she and Kavanaugh attended a high-school party when she was 15 and he was 17. She alleges that on her way to the bathroom, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom then he and his friend locked the door and played loud music to drown out her shouts for help. The future judge pinned her down, stifled her cries, groped her and tried to take off her clothes, she claims. While shoplifting or underage drinking can be reasonably forgiven as acts of youthful rebellion, forcing yourself on a teenage girl fearing for her life warrants different treatment.
It's important to note that Kavanaugh has denied the allegations “categorically and unequivocally”, and Ford's accusation conveniently came to light days before the conservative jurist’s expected appointment to the Supreme Court. Ford’s lawyer has also called for a FBI investigation, witness interviews and evidence collection before the confirmation hearing. Critics have painted Ford’s letter as a political manoeuvre by Democrats to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation until the midterm elections in November, in the hope they can retake the House and veto his ascension.
However, Ford's story isn't new. She sent a letter detailing the incident to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein back in July, discussed it in couple’s therapy in 2012, and passed a polygraph test on the subject in August. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has invited both Ford and Kavanaugh to testify at a public hearing on Monday, in a bid to settle the matter and complete the confirmation before the midterms. But he has refused to call Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s Georgetown Prep classmate and alleged accomplice, likely because Judge’s sexist and misogynistic writing and memoir about his alcoholism in high school won't help Kavanaugh's case. While Republicans are wary of downplaying the accusation and feel pressured to address it, they aren’t willing to take the time to properly adjudicate it.
If Ford is telling the truth, Kavanaugh imprisoned, overpowered, tried to undress and stifled the screams of a young girl while his friend guarded the door. A drunken misunderstanding between two teenagers is one thing, but a premeditated sexual assault by two older boys is deadly serious. Adolescents should be granted some lenience when they make mistakes and not be branded as criminals for the rest of their lives, but some offences can’t be casually dismissed. Kavanaugh has already shown his penchant for opacity and deception in recent weeks; if he did what Ford claims and falsely painted her as a liar too, he’s not fit for the Supreme Court.