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Believing Survivors of Sexual Assault

By Tyler Bauer

If you missed my analysis of Brett Kavanaugh before these accusations surfaced, click here.

#MeToo has reached the Supreme Court

By now, you’ve probably heard about Supreme Court hopeful Brett Kavanaugh being accused of numerous cases of sexual misconduct. If you’ve been living off the grid for a month or so, here’s a list of the accusations made against Brett Kavanaugh. Things have proceeded exactly how you’d expect. Generally, Democrats have opposed Kavanaugh and Republicans have supported Kavanaugh. Barring something unforeseen, the partisan divide on Kavanaugh is unlikely to change anytime soon.

I’ve written before on the #MeToo movement. In the wake of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, new – but related – movements have emerged. The new movements are #BelieveSurvivors and #BelieveWomen. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll only be addressing #BelieveSurvivors because it’s the more popular of the two and both movements have more or less the same goals in this scenario.

People across the country have stood up in support of the #BelieveSurvivors movement. Whether it be journalists, average citizens, or academics and students, people of all backgrounds have come to support Kavanaugh’s accusers and oppose Kavanaugh.

Dr. Ford, Kavanaugh’s Most Well-Known Accuser

For example, who is Dr. Ford, Kavanaugh’s most notable accuser? She’s a college professor from California. For what it’s worth, she’s also a registered Democrat. Dr. Ford’s claims are uncorroborated. (To be fair, uncorroborated doesn’t necessarily mean untrue.) To make this case even weirder, multiple men have come forward claiming Dr. Ford may have mistaken Kavanaugh for them on the night she alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. One common argument in favor of believing accusers is “What does an accuser have to gain?” Well, in this case, the accuser can gain upwards of $700,000. Michael Avenatti – the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels in her dispute with President Trumphas publicly come to Dr. Ford’s defense. In case people weren’t asking enough questions yet, a Democratic Congresswoman executed a not-so-subtle handoff following Dr. Ford’s testimony this past week.

I’m not saying any of this necessarily makes Dr. Ford less credible or less deserving of justice. I’m just saying that these are questions worth asking. To be fair to Dr. Ford and the other accusers, much of the evidence against them is borderline conspiracy-theory stuff.

Kavanaugh

Similarly, we should be asking questions of Kavanaugh. Everyone – including himself – has agreed that Kavanaugh was a bit of a drinker back in his youth. The man loves his beer. Is it possible that he got drunk and did something terrible? Of course. Is it possible that he was sober and did something terrible? Again, of course. To make matters worse for Kavanaugh, he has multiple accusers. Most people – myself included – have a harder time believing the accused when multiple accusers come forward. To be fair to Kavanaugh, though, outside of the accusations, there’s little to no evidence against him. It’s entirely possible that more evidence may surface, though.

To Believe, or Not to Believe?

The #BelieveSurvivors movement begs the following question: Should we believe survivors of sexual assault?

The short answer is this: Yes and no. I believe we should generally give alleged victims the benefit of the doubt. I can’t wrap my head around why someone would lie about such a heinous crime.

The long answer, though, is a bit more nuanced.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

While I said we should generally believe those who claim to be victims of sexual assault, I think we should do our best to limit this belief. We should believe victims enough to take their claims seriously and get to the bottom of what, if anything, happened and what, if anything, needs to be done. I don’t claim to speak for everyone, but I think this is something we can all support.

Here’s my problem with the #BelieveSurvivors movement: Believing survivors means presuming the guilt of the accused.

What we shouldn’t do is go so far in giving the benefit of the doubt that we presume guilt. No matter how despicable the crime or criminal, everyone – yes, everyone – should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is the basis of our legal system, and it should be the basis of our society, too. Even if the accused is eventually determined to be guilty (which may happen with Kavanaugh), we shouldn’t think of them as being guilty until it’s proven.

We shouldn’t fully and automatically believe Kavanaugh’s accusers, or any accusers for that matter, until we have enough proof to do so. Additionally, we shouldn’t fully and automatically believe Kavanaugh or anyone accused of anything. At the very least, we should take time to think before jumping to conclusions. Each party deserves their opportunity to ask and answer questions.

What Now?

The day after Dr. Ford appeared in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly voted in favor of Brett Kavanaugh, allowing him to move on to the full Senate. Soon after, Kavanaugh’s move to the full Senate was put on hold to allow a week-long FBI investigation into the accusations. I welcome the investigation, but I have a hard time believing anything new will be learned. A week is too short for a good investigation, and Republicans probably won’t let the investigation go any longer. (In Republicans’ defense, Democrats would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed. Both parties are more concerned with power than people. Neither party is as good as its supporters believe it is.)

I don’t know the truth in the accusations against Kavanaugh. Someone is lying. Is it Dr. Ford and the other accusers? Possibly. Is it Kavanaugh? Possibly. No matter where you stand on this issue, we should all take some time to evaluate the facts we’ve been given. If I learned anything from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or The Crucible in high school, it’s to avoid jumping to conclusions when accusations are made.

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