Brett Kavanaugh Is Rape Culture Personified

Kavanaugh doesn’t just benefit from a system that shields men in the face of endemic sexual abuse—he embodies it.

Miles Kampf-Lassin October 4, 2018

Throughout his life, Brett Kavanaugh has benefited from a system that sanctions lying and puts the conquest of power and personal prestige above all else. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Every­thing about Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh’s tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee last week screamed of right­eous indig­na­tion over being forced to answer for alle­ga­tions that he may not be as stain­less as his most ardent sup­port­ers have avowed. Judge Kavanaugh didn’t just dis­miss the claims of his accuser Dr. Chris­tine Blasey Ford, he did every­thing in his pow­er to por­tray him­self as the vic­tim of a nefar­i­ous plot” that has near­ly destroyed his family.

Kavanaugh’s adherence to a culture of male protection and a patriarchal code of conduct may have been instilled in Georgetown Prep, but it continues through to today.

Stand­ing on the precipice of becom­ing one of the nine most con­se­quen­tial peo­ple in all of Amer­i­can jurispru­dence — where he could cast the decid­ing vote on every­thing from abor­tion rights to affir­ma­tive action — Kavanaugh insist­ed upon his inno­cence, and repeat­ed­ly lied in the process.

And as more infor­ma­tion has come out about Pres­i­dent Trump’s cur­rent Supreme Court nom­i­nee, it’s increas­ing­ly clear that, whether or not you believe Ford’s claims of sex­u­al assault are true, Kavanaugh is a human emis­sary for our country’s per­verse dis­ease of rape culture.

Broad­ly defined, rape cul­ture is the nor­mal­iza­tion of sex­u­al vio­lence due to debased atti­tudes toward sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der in our soci­ety. When it comes to Kavanaugh, his actions have shown that he is on a ruth­less hunt for pow­er — and is will­ing to throw women under the bus along the way. He has been repeat­ed­ly dis­hon­est under oath, aban­don­ing cred­i­bil­i­ty. He has been com­plic­it in plots to under­cut and dehu­man­ize his female accusers. And he’s oper­at­ed with­in a class of wealthy white men pro­tect­ed by a patri­ar­chal sys­tem that shields them from recrim­i­na­tion. His acts fit into a clear pat­tern of rape culture. 

Brett Kavanaugh faces mul­ti­ple accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al assault. Ford claims he pinned her down while thrust­ing him­self onto her with his hand over her mouth, to the point she thought she might die. Deb­o­rah Ramirez claims he laugh­ing­ly shoved his penis into her face in a col­lege dorm while anoth­er man told her to kiss it.” Julie Swet­nick claims Kavanaugh par­tic­i­pat­ed in gang rapes at par­ties while a stu­dent at George­town Prepara­to­ry School, and at one such par­ty she her­self was raped after being drugged.

These claims are shock­ing only inso­far as they are being lev­eled against a nom­i­nee to the high­est court in the land. Tak­en on their own, how­ev­er, they are all too nor­mal. Near­ly one in four women in high­er edu­ca­tion has been the vic­tim of an attempt­ed or com­plet­ed rape over the course of her col­lege career. Of those attempts, less than 5 per­cent are ever report­ed to law enforce­ment. And one fea­ture of a large pro­por­tion of these acts of sex­u­al assault is the pres­ence of high lev­els of alco­hol use.

Through­out the Sen­ate hear­ing, Kavanaugh repeat­ed­ly sought to down­play his drink­ing habits while in col­lege. But accord­ing to for­mer Yale class­mate Chad Lud­ing­ton, that is a bla­tant mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.” In a pub­lic state­ment, Lud­ing­ton said that in deny­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that he ever blacked out from drink­ing, and in down­play­ing the degree and fre­quen­cy of his drink­ing, Brett has not told the truth.”

Lud­ing­ton isn’t alone: Numer­ous oth­er class­mates describe Kavanaugh as being an exces­sive drinker in col­lege. While these claims offer no proof that he engaged in the acts he’s charged with, they do cast enor­mous doubt upon the judge’s cred­i­bil­i­ty and hon­esty. If he is lying to cov­er up his alco­hol abuse while a teenag­er, who’s to say he isn’t also lying about alleged sex­u­al assault dur­ing the same time period?

Drink­ing isn’t the only area where Kavanaugh has not told the truth. He claimed that all of the wit­ness­es to the alleged assault of Dr. Ford said: it didn’t hap­pen.” That’s sim­ply not true. Mark Judge, who Ford said was present dur­ing her assault — and who the FBI has inves­ti­gat­ed — said he didn’t recall” the event, not that it didn’t hap­pen. Two oth­er wit­ness­es, Leland Ing­ham Keyser and Patrick J. Smyth, also said they didn’t remem­ber the night in ques­tion, rather than deny­ing the assault took place. And Keyser actu­al­ly said she believes Dr. Ford’s account.”

Kavanaugh also tes­ti­fied that he had heard noth­ing about Ramirez’s accu­sa­tions until they were pub­lished in the New York­er last week. That claim appears to be falling apart in the face of the release of text mes­sages that indi­cate both the judge and his staff were aware of the alle­ga­tions months before the New York­er arti­cle came out. The texts also show that Kavanaugh’s team had been plot­ting ways to under­cut Ramirez’s sto­ry. This dis­tor­tion points to a craven quest for pow­er by Kavanaugh, which he was will­ing to ful­ly dis­cred­it a for­mer class­mate and lie under oath in order to pursue. 

Some of the most dis­turb­ing lies per­tain to the casu­al use by Kavanaugh and his peers of lan­guage that dehu­man­izes women. In his George­town Prep year­book, Kavanaugh and a num­ber of his fel­low foot­ball play­ers used the term Renate Alum­ni” to refer to class­mate Renate Dol­phin, an appar­ent ref­er­ence to hav­ing had sex with her. Kavanaugh denied this dur­ing the hear­ing, claim­ing instead it was a term of endear­ment and belong­ing. Dol­phin, how­ev­er, sees it anoth­er way, call­ing the year­book entries hor­ri­ble, hurt­ful and sim­ply untrue.”

Kavanaugh sim­i­lar­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed oth­er terms used in the year­book. He said that the Devil’s Tri­an­gle” was a drink­ing game when it is com­mon­ly known as a ref­er­ence to sex between three peo­ple. And he said Boof­ing” was a ref­er­ence to flat­u­lence rather than anal sex, which was how the term was cus­tom­ar­i­ly used in the 1980s. 

Sen. Jeff Flake, who demand­ed that the FBI con­duct an inves­ti­ga­tion into the claims of assault against Kavanaugh as a pre­cur­sor to his nom­i­na­tion being sent to the Sen­ate floor for a vote, said on 60 Min­utes last week that if the judge was found to have been lying, then his nom­i­na­tion would be over.” Even Lind­say Gra­ham, a die-hard Kavanaugh sup­port­er, said in 1999 that if a judge com­mits per­jury, that’s grounds for imme­di­ate impeachment. 

Whether or not the FBI con­cludes it from their brief inves­ti­ga­tion, there are reams of evi­dence show­ing that, even under oath, Kavanaugh has not been telling the truth. That should be enough to not only sink his nom­i­na­tion but to have him dis­barred. Yet, through­out his life, Brett Kavanaugh has ben­e­fit­ed from a sys­tem that sanc­tions lying and puts the con­quest of pow­er and per­son­al pres­tige above all else. 

Kavanaugh comes from a world of priv­i­lege — of prep schools and post-game keg­gers, of boys’ clubs and secrets kept under all cir­cum­stances if it means pro­tect­ing your inner cir­cle and those you hold in esteem. These are also the ingre­di­ents that pro­duce an incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous cli­mate for women, as well as LGBTQ communities.

One in three col­lege men say that they would rape if they knew they could get away with it (though they would pre­fer not to call it rape”). While that fig­ure should be shock­ing, it’s too often accept­ed as a nat­ur­al out­growth of our hyper-sex­u­al­ized” soci­ety. In prac­tice, that means that sex­u­al assault of women becomes deeply nor­mal­ized, and report­ing it becomes more of a risk for the accuser than the accused.

Despite Trump’s state­ment that if the alle­ga­tions by Ford are true then she would have filed a police report imme­di­ate­ly,” tak­ing such a step against a pow­er­ful fig­ure like Kavanaugh — both then and now — would always be a risk. Today, after tes­ti­fy­ing before the Sen­ate and hav­ing her life pro­pelled into the pub­lic eye, Ford is reg­u­lar­ly receiv­ing death threats and has had to move away from her fam­i­ly home in California.

Kavanaugh’s adher­ence to a cul­ture of male pro­tec­tion and a patri­ar­chal code of con­duct may have been instilled in George­town Prep, but it con­tin­ues through to today. It’s the same code that Kavanaugh fol­lowed while defend­ing tor­ture being car­ried out under top offi­cials in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. And it’s the same code that was put on full dis­play when a lawyer close to the White House told Politi­co that, If some­body can be brought down by accu­sa­tions like this, then you, me, every man cer­tain­ly should be wor­ried. We can all be accused of something.”

Under this rea­son­ing, it’s Ford who has trans­gressed by voic­ing her charge, not Kavanaugh. And it’s this same rea­son­ing that has allowed men to feel enti­tled to women’s bod­ies — and to the upper ech­e­lons of pow­er — regard­less of any obsta­cles that may stand in their way. 

At a time when more and more women are speak­ing out about endem­ic sex­u­al abuse, Kavanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion serves as a fune­re­al reminder that rape cul­ture is still per­va­sive. If there was ever a time for our elect­ed offi­cials to come togeth­er to reject that endur­ing dis­or­der — and hold its adher­ents to account — it’s now.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

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