Brett Kavanaugh’s write-up in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year feature does not mention the sexual assault allegations made against him by Dr Christine Blasey Ford. The writer of Kavanaugh’s profile, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, details Kavanaugh’s qualifications before alluding to the allegations through a lens of political smear – “unhinged partisanship and special interests”. He goes on to applaud the ”resilience and commitment to public service” as well as his “loyal devotion to family and friends”.
It’s astonishing, really, that this piece was allowed to run. All the more so, because Kavanaugh features in the same list as Dr Ford – his accuser. Her write-up, by Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, testifies to the bravery and resonance of the statements she made against Kavanaugh: “her unfathomable sacrifice, out of a sense of civic duty, shined a spotlight on the way we treat survivors of sexual violence.”
How on earth did we get to a place where we celebrate a sexual assault survivor for her courage in speaking out at the same time – and in the same place – as celebrating the man she has accused of assaulting her?
I am not sure whether Harris knew her words to be so ironic when she wrote them. The very place in which they were published did, indeed, shine a spotlight on the way we treat survivors of sexual violence. As a survivor of sexual violence, I cannot begin to describe the extent to which Time’s decision to feature Kavanaugh has felt like total and utter disrespect – betrayal, even. In celebrating accuser and accused simultaneously, the magazine negates everything Dr Ford said and the values she spoke for. Time’s decision to include Kavanaugh felt like another way of saying ‘we don’t believe you’.
The trauma that results from sexual assault is pervasive and isolating, and we know that this experience is expounded by the walls of disbelief that victims of sexual violence come up against. In speaking out, Dr Ford is one of the most empowering people I have ever come across. When I watched the Senate hearings I was moved in a way I had not been before: while her voice trembled and her eyes filled with tears, we were shown how strength and vulnerability become one. Old and outdated notions of bravery fell away as Dr Ford spoke. Eloquently, and with devastating honesty, she told us that the assault had changed the course of her life forever, and she was unashamed in her fear:
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Retelling traumatic events – in detail – is hellish. I can tell you that, because I’ve done it. During a filmed testimony at a police station, I spent what was probably the most intense two hours of my life describing the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was an experience that required a different kind of courage, as I searched within myself for something I didn’t know was there. Dr Ford did this, but times a hundred. She did it to rooms full of people, many of whom were desperate to prove her wrong. She did it live on global television. And, at the end of it all, she was let down by the most powerful people in the US, who then confirmed Kavanaugh’s appointment as a Supreme Court judge.
In including Kavanaugh, Time magazine have let Dr Ford down again. It doesn’t matter that, factually, he might be one of the most influential people in the world. In lauding and ultimately celebrating him, Time has only served to increase his influence. In allowing McConnell’s gushing and cynical words to go to print, Time has let down every single survivor of sexual assault. There is no such thing as neutral or impartial – an uncomfortable truth that is becoming increasingly prescient in today’s world. In situations of injustice, we have to take sides. If we don’t, then, as Desmond Tutu famously said, we side with the oppressor.
I hope that Dr Ford knows that, as many times as she might be undermined or rendered irrelevant or even disbelieved by those who partake in a cranky, patriarchal, archaic system, she has changed people’s lives for the better.
I would like to say to Dr Christine Blasey Ford: you are my hero.