The #MeToo showdown tearing America apart

Facing off: The pair will each testify before the US Senate, starting at 3pm UK time.

Should there be a time limit on accusations? Today, the US Senate will question President Trump’s nomination to join the Supreme Court — and the woman who has accused him of assaulting her.

Christine Blasey Ford admits that her memories of that summer night in the early 1980s are not complete. She does not remember whose house party she was attending in the suburbs of Washington, DC, or how she got home afterwards.

Here is what she says she does remember: rock music was playing. She was led into a bedroom by a teenage boy named Brett Kavanaugh. He pinned her to the bed, groped her and covered up her mouth. He was “stumbling drunk”, and she eventually escaped.

Ford did not tell this story for decades. However, that teenage boy is now one of America’s top judges — and he has been nominated to fill a space on the Supreme Court. Ford says it is her “civic responsibility” to speak out before his place is confirmed by the US Senate.

Today, they will both testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will make its final decision tomorrow.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in America, and its nine judges decide the country’s biggest cases. For example, it was the Supreme Court which ended the segregation of schools in 1954, and which legalised same-sex marriage in 2015. Once its judges are confirmed, they have the job for life.

On Sunday, a woman named Deborah Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct while they were both at university. Yesterday, a third woman came forward.

Kavanaugh has strongly denied the accusations. In an interview with Fox News on Monday, he said that he “never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.”

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has vehemently defended him, accusing the Democrats of trying to “destroy a wonderful man” using “false accusations”.

Part of the difficulty facing the Senate today lies in assessing an incident which, if it happened, took place 36 years ago. Should there be a time limit to such accusations?

Judgement day

Yes, say some, especially when the person being accused was a teenager at the time. In many US states, under-18s can have their criminal records expunged once they are adults, acknowledging that the mistakes made when you are young should not ruin your life. But perhaps there should be a time limit, regardless of age. After all, the decades which have passed mean that memories are hazy. The crime is impossible to prove.

There should be no limit, argue others. Assaults (especially multiple assaults) suggest a dark side to a person’s character that does not go away. By 17, you should know right from wrong — and the majority of teenagers do. It is unfair to them to suggest that this is just “boys being boys”. Besides, teenage victims of assault often deal with the consequences for the rest of their life. The perpetrators must do the same.

You Decide

  1. Should a mistake that you make now still affect your life when you are 50?
  2. Should the Senate approve Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court judge?

Activities

  1. Summarise this story in 100 words, then 50 words, then 20 words.
  2. Research the case of Anita Hill, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991. Write a short piece comparing the two cases.

Some People Say...

“The weak are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.”

Aristotle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Three women have now accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, of various types. All have two things in common: they happened when he was much younger, and he was drinking heavily at the time. Kavanaugh himself has denied the accusations, although admits that he “sometimes had too many” drinks, and that he “said and did things in high school that make me cringe now.”
What do we not know?
What really happened. America does not know either. In an NPR poll released yesterday, 42% of Americans said they did not know who to believe. However, 32% believe Ford and 26% believe Kavanaugh. Interestingly, 59% say that he should not be on the Supreme Court if the allegations are proven to be true. Unfortunately, as with so many sexual assault cases, it is difficult to prove.

Word Watch

Supreme Court
There are three branches of US government: the legislative branch includes the elected politicians in Congress. The executive branch includes the president and the cabinet. The judicial branch includes the courts. Of these, the Supreme Court is the highest, and it has the final say on interpreting laws and the Constitution.
US Senate
The upper chamber of US Congress, including 100 elected Senators.
Judiciary Committee
A committee which oversees the US Department of Justice. It includes 21 Senators: 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. It has hired an outside female counsel to question Ford.
Segregation
Separating white and black students.
Sexual misconduct
Ramirez said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were both drunk at a party while studying at Yale University.
Third woman
Julie Swetnick says she “witnessed efforts by… Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys.” She says she was the victim of a gang rape where Kavanaugh was “present”.
Expunged
Wiped clean.