Here's How an Expert in Sexual Violence Thinks About the Allegations Against Brett Kavanaugh - and How He Defends Against Them
As Christine Blasey Ford prepares to testify about her allegations of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and he prepares to testify in his defense, the heated political debates consuming the country are almost certain to subsume any reasoned, informed assessment of the facts.
To better understand how to think about the allegations made about Kavanaugh and his reaction to being accused, I reached out to Robin Cooper, LCSW, M.Ed. Cooper is a social worker who specializes in serving people convicted of sexual offenses and intimate partner violence.
With Ford set to testify before the Senate, the primary political questions are: Will she appear credible? Will the Senators find her to be a believable and compelling witness?
But Cooper argued that this framing is the not necessarily the best way to approach Ford's claims.
"I'm not really sure how to measure credibility in an individual coming forward with allegations of abuse of any kind. I think the idea that we as a culture have come up with a credibility report card (specifically for women and other oppressed populations) is problematic," she wrote. "I think it's important that we start making the shift toward believing people who come forward about abuse, rather than focusing on their 'credibility.'"
She added: "I am inclined to believe people when they take the steps to come forward and state that something awful has happened to them. There is far too much that occurs after coming forward to do so without much thought."
Kavanaugh has denied the accusations made against him by Ford, as well as the other women who have made claims against him. Cooper explained that even if the allegations are completely true, Kavanaugh may still believe his own denials.
"It's really difficult for any of us to acknowledge (let alone actively own) behaviors/characteristics about ourselves that are different than our view of self," she said. "I have also worked with people convicted of sexual offenses who truly had a different experience of the assault, and it took work for those individuals to consider the ways in which their actions were experienced by the people on the receiving end of their actions. That does not invalidate the allegations."
She continued: "That being said, I'm not a judge. I'm a mental health professional and it is far out of my professional reach to determine guilt or innocence."
Cooper also pointed out that Kavanaugh's claim that he didn't have sexual intercourse until many years after the alleged incident — he was a virgin, he told Fox News' Martha MacCallum — has little to do with the accusations against him.
"From all available information, whether or not Mr. Kavanaugh was engaging in penetrative sex during the time period Dr. Ford has stated the assault occurred is not relevant," she said.
Ultimately, Cooper argues that we need to start thinking differently about sexuality, sexual assault, and gender before we can actually start to address the problem.
"I am a firm believer that there will be little to no change in individual behaviors until the larger social belief systems about gender, sexual contact, and sexuality are addressed on a macro level. I think we, as a culture, often target individuals to correct behaviors when we have nurtured a culture that is supportive of violence toward oppressed communities," she said.
"That does not mean I do not believe in holding individuals accountable for their actions," she concluded. "[It] does mean that we have a lot of work to do to successfully/effectively work toward prevention of sexual assault."