Over the past two weeks, Washington has once again been rocked by allegations of sexual assault. Christine Blasey Ford, professor at Palo Alto University, accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her over 30 years ago at a high school party.
Debate continues to dominate the Senate floor as these allegations arise in the middle of Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Senators have taken stances along party lines, with Democrats pressing for an FBI investigation and Republicans questioning Ford’s timing.
Many have been quick to compare the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh to the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Justice Clarence Thomas. Twenty-seven years ago, Anita Hill came forward and accused Thomas of sexual harassment during her time working for him. While senators ordered an FBI investigation of the case, the blame was shifted to Hill herself.
During her testimony, harsh character attacks against Hill ensued, with senators posing questions such as, “Are you a scorned woman?” and, “Do you have a martyr complex?”
While Hill’s testimony may have led to the election of many female senators the following year, her treatment by senators marked yet another setback for women coming forward after sexual assault. In the end, Justice Thomas was confirmed and these accusations seemingly vanished from the public mind. As history is repeating itself, many are asking if the results will be the same.
A few important distinctions exist between these two cases separated by almost 30 years. On the heels of the #MeToo movement sweeping through Hollywood and social media, there is hope that Ford will be given fair treatment during her trial.
Intolerance for sexual harassment has reached Washington over the past few years, with Senator Al Franken stepping down after eight accusations, and Representative John Conyers retiring after multiple accusers came forward.
Regardless of personal opinion, Washington has a troubling history with accusations of sexual assault, and we must hold our elected officials to the highest of standards in terms of conduct. With Kavanaugh’s confirmation likely to lead to 40 years of service on the Supreme Court making national decisions, sexual assault accusations must be investigated more thoroughly than in the past.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, sexual assault has gained more traction as a nationwide issue that exists at all levels of society. On college campuses, where this issue is most pronounced, 1 in 5 women will experience a form of sexual assault. Even more shocking is that 54 percent of assaults go unreported.
With a nominee for the nation’s highest court standing accused, we must provide Christine Blasey Ford the opportunity to share her story and receive a full FBI investigation. Our nation’s pattern of victim blaming will only change if those at the highest of ranks are held accountable. We must set a precedent so that all women feel that they can come forward and receive fair treatment.
Read more about the sexual assault statistics at Penn State to be more aware of the status of this issue on our campus.