In an unsurprising turn of events, the nation was split down the middle last week as U.S. circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh was questioned during a Senate hearing following accusations of sexual assault.
Like so many Americans, I have strong opinions about the events that transpired – the believability of Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, the conduct of the Supreme Court nominee during his questioning, the question of endangering people’s careers and good names with unsubstantiated claims, the very serious issue of sexual assault and rape culture in this country and the politically driven attacks from both sides of the aisle that turned what is a serious problem for everyday women in America into a national dog and pony show.
Also unsurprisingly, my own opinions do not seem to be conservative enough for my family or liberal enough for my friends. So I write to you, once again, as a woman without a party, a voice from the lonely middle of the aisle.
I could address in detail the issues listed above, but this week I want to instead bring to light an issue raised during the Kavanaugh hearing that I think has a much more immediate impact on the families and communities in East County: the conduct of young people.
Specifically, I want to draw your attention to issues, the double standard regarding the assumption of innocence between our boys and our girls and the complicity of conduct our young people may not – but should – realize they are a part of.
The double standard should be easy to address.
When a girl is assaulted, society asks her, “why were you at that party?” “why were you dressed that way?” or “why did you drink so much?” – all these questions, of course, subtly shift the blame of her assault from her assailant onto her.
Recently, a bevy of memes have made their debut on social media concluding that all men are now in danger of their lives being ruined if a woman falsely accuses them of misconduct without proof.
What if we held our young men to the same standard we hold our young women to? What if, when a woman claims she was a victim of their misbehavior, we asked our boys, “why were you at that party?” or “why did you drink so much?”
The truth is, both the boys and girls in our community would find themselves far less often in positions where they could be victimized by assault or falsely accused of assault if they did not participate in a cultural context where assault seems to be so frequent.
The AP reported that between 2011 and 2015, nearly 17,000 sexual assaults were committed by U.S. students – non-college students, high school-age and younger.
Universities are a problem in and of themselves. The Guardian reported that fraternity brothers are three times more likely to commit rape than other students on campus and sorority girls are roughly 74 percent more likely to be raped than other students on campus. The same article detailed the lurid pursuits of college fraternities, like the Georgia Tech frat that sent out an email entitled, “Luring your Rapebait,” or the Wesleyan frat that was nicknamed “the Rape Factory.”
Party culture is dangerous, which brings us to our second point.
When high schoolers and college students willingly attend and participate in parties where misconduct is taking place, and they are aware of it, they are complicit in that misconduct.
Julie Swetnick, the third accuser to come forward against Kavanaugh, claimed that she attended parties where boys spiked drinks to make girls vulnerable targets. She described a series of violations made against her personally at one of these parties. Although, with new information, it looks as though her claim that Kavanaugh was involved in sexual assault at one of those parties is less than credible, I have no doubt that her experiences were real.
I also have no doubt that Kavanaugh probably found himself at a few of those parties.
My question to both would be: why?
If, as Kavanaugh claims, he was such a good boy, why would he be at parties that hosted such malicious actions?
If, as Swetnick claims, she was witness to and victim of said atrocities, why would she continue to attend those parties?
And most importantly, why would either remain silent about it?
Of course, there is a difference between excessive drinking and stupid decisions and criminal actions. But how is it that generations of young people – and apparently supreme court nominees – cannot seem to tell the difference?
At what point did our society fail them? Where did the message miss its target? Why have we not been able to raise a generation of young people who will report misconduct, or, at the very least, call their friends out when they see it happening?
But the thousands of American college students who attend parties every weekend remain silent. Much worse, by attending some of those parties they are condoning the culture of assault and by not reporting crimes when they are aware they are taking place, they are complicit in them.
By attending these kinds of functions, they are aiding and abetting rape culture.
And while there is certainly an element of personal responsibility our young people must mantel, the parents in our communities also have a responsibility here. More than just giving children an education and making sure they eat three square meals a day, the role of a parent is to raise a decent human being.
So where did we fall short?
Ford said during her testimony against Kavanaugh that she did not tell her parents about her assault because she was not supposed to be drinking at a party with boys. As a goodie-two-shoes myself in high school who very easily would have made a similar choice to go to a low-key party and drink a low-key beer just to have the chance to hang out with some cool older boys, I can understand 15-year-old Ford’s internal conflict – not so much the fear of getting in trouble, but the fear of being blamed for what happened.
Our boys do not share the same fear. They can go to parties and drink and goof around in all sorts of ways without society condemning their actions.
What is more, society will justify their actions if they can prove their futures are bright enough. Take Brock Turner’s stellar college swimming career that kept him out of prison after raping a girl at a party.
The mindset that success and good deeds can make up for misbehavior is deeply rooted in society.
Whenever Kavanaugh’s drinking habits were questioned, he responded by strutting his academic achievements, his charity, his church, his hard work, as if all those good things made up for the possibility of something bad.
Neither our boys nor our girls should operate under the assumption that being strong, skilled, successful contributors to society will get them off the hook when the consequences of their actions come knocking on the front door.
That mindset, though, is built early. It is built at home and cultivated at school. Parents, teachers and coaches need to be a little better at tough love. We need to create a culture in our homes and schools that fosters respect towards those around us and a sense of sobriety about the consequences of violating that respect.
We need to teach our kids to be bold in standing up for their own rights and protecting the safety of others.
We need to be raising whistle blowers and protect-the-little-guy heroes.
We need to be raising empathizers and empowerers.
And I am not saying they cannot enjoy beer, but we need to be raising people who understand the difference between having a good time and having a good time at someone else’s expense.