Friday, March 5, 2021

She was credible, brought back memories


Like many Americans, I watched the testimony given by Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee Friday. What I saw was more a job interview than a political discussion, more a peek into the character of a man than a consideration of evidence.

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The evidence in this case—the physical evidence, anyway—amounts to the scribbles of a 17-year-old boy at an elite prep school and testimony about how much he drank alcohol as an underage teen back in the 80s. So any investigation, which will be launched by the FBI, is unlikely to dig up anything we haven’t already heard about.

His was a life of privilege and entitlement, a life of drunken blackouts and abusing young girls, a life of alpha-male dominance on the football team at an all-boys Catholic prep school.

Located in North Bethesda, Maryland, Georgetown Prep serves a little under 500 students in grades 9 through 12. The student-teacher ratio is 8-to-1, which would probably be the vote against Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a justice to the Supreme Court if it were up to them before Anthony Kennedy left. Tuition at the school is $60,280 for the highest grade offered in the current year, but I don’t know what it was at the time Mr Kavanaugh was a student.

But for the rest of America, for whom that’s just too much money, like me, the long testimony from Ms Blasey Ford and Mr Kavanaugh, who she says abused her sexually when he was a student at the school and she was 15 years old, rekindled episodes from our younger days.

There’s one human resources episode in my past of 20 years ago. I worked at a company in New Jersey as a hotshot computer programmer. The company relocated me, at great expense, from my home in Illinois so I could develop computer programs that helped its employees do their work more efficiently or profitably.

Not knowing anyone in New Jersey, I went out with people from work, and a friendship developed with a woman I’ll call “Amanda.” She was a manager in one of the company’s business units and in the group I started hanging out with.

I was also interested in her, but she was going through a divorce at the time and needed a friend more than a replacement husband. That consideration blew right over my head as we spent several late nights chatting on the phone about our concerns of the day. It seemed to me as though we were really connecting, but looking back, I think her involvement in those phone calls with me was more neutral than I thought at the time.

After about two months, I started to show more interest in her, but nothing ever came of it. She didn’t exactly tell me she wasn’t interested in getting to know me, but instead simply didn’t exactly encourage my efforts either—which is what people do who only want to be friends.

I kept going forward with the friendship, hoping without much hope that one day she would see me as more than a friend. But if things don’t click right away, they don’t usually turn around.

Then one day, a man called me from her phone number—I assumed it was her ex-husband—and told me never to call her again. The next workday after that, human resources called me into their office and told me that she had made a formal complaint about me and my continued attempts to ask her out.

I was sad that I had upset her and felt unfairly treated, but that’s just because the complaint put an end to my efforts. The complaint and the company’s response were exquisitely fair to Amanda as well as to the company, even if they didn’t consider my different interpretation of events.

It’s very likely that my interest in her led me to construe actions and statements on her part that might have been neutral as being more encouraging or positive. When you like someone, you see everything they do and hear everything they say in a light that is most favorable to the pursuit of a lasting relationship.

But I was wrong about how she saw things, and my visit to HR made that abundantly clear, even if many of the details were mixed up or even a little embellished in either of our accounts.

I resigned the next day, not wishing the company to take its efforts off of its business to conduct some kind of kangaroo court or botched investigation. I apologized, although I don’t know if my apology was ever actually delivered to Amanda.

This is why I think Mr Kavanaugh should withdraw the president’s nomination: The American Bar Association, which has called for a delay pending an investigation, writes in its code of conduct that “a judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” Mr Kavanaugh’s responses and testimony do not promote public confidence in the judiciary. Maybe that only applies to circuit court judges, and the Supreme Court has a different code of conduct for justices!

Withdrawing will also allow Ms Blasey Ford to receive an apology from Mr Kavanaugh without the Senate and the entire country watching. She was adversely affected by what happened, and for her recovery, I would urge an immediate withdrawal of this nomination.

Based on the number of calls that poured into the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network after the hearing—the Baltimore Sun reported there was a 201-percent increase above normal call volume around the hearing—lots of people in the country started recalling incidents that resemble this in their own pasts. An unacknowledged past is unresolved, and unresolved issues haunt those who truly care about the people they serve forever.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this testimony brought back memories from my past. Sarah Brown, who writes about a range of higher-education topics for The Chronicle of Higher Education, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life, drew three direct parallels between the Kavanaugh/Ford testimony and the kind of questions Title IX investigators face at colleges and universities all the time:

  1. How does sexual trauma affect memory?
  2. Should you have your life ruined for things you did as a teenager?
  3. Does it matter if someone owns up to his or her mistakes?
Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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