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How Much Harm Might Justice Kavanagh's Confirmation Process Have Caused?

Message Dagmar Honigmann

In my previous column, I noted examples of the many ways in which girls and women could have learned a lesson from Justice Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation process: If you're sexually assaulted, the best thing to do is just keep it secret. (To give yet another example: Imagine again that you're the 15-year old girl, "Susie", in that column. Before seeing what happened when Dr. Blasey-Ford and the other women accused Brett Kavanaugh of sex crimes, you had assumed that if a classmate ever tried to assault you, you would report it to the police. However, you're a big fan of Ivana and Melania Trump, and Melania has just told you that you shouldn't accuse someone of that unless you had "really hard evidence". . . You realize that you wouldn't be likely to have much in the way of evidence if you succeeded in fighting him off, since he'd hardly be likely to try to rape you in public. You know you could at least pass a lie detector test, but Dr. Blasey-Ford did that and it apparently made no difference even to the FBI. So although you don't really like the thought of letting your classmate try again with your other friends - and maybe succeed - you can't help wondering, what would be the point of reporting it if you simply aren't believed, including by the police?)

"Susie" is just one person, and a figment of our imagination at that. Still, I remember seeing the following FaceBook post somewhere: "That sound you're *not* hearing? It's the sound of millions of women and girls who will never ever tell. Or ever tell again." So it might be worth asking ourselves just how many girls and women like "Susie" might actually have taken the lessons they'd learned during the confirmation hearings to heart, and will end up not reporting it when they are sexually assaulted in the future. I've tried to do some calculations. . .

It's been widely reported that fewer than half of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. Estimates vary, but I picked one by the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network that was based on national data from the federal government: 31% of all actual rapes. Estimates of how likely women are to be sexually assaulted also vary somewhat, but I picked a report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that seemed typical: about one in four girls gets sexually abused by the age of 18, and one in three women will eventually be the victim of a violent sexual assault (in most cases, rape) as a child or adult.

Let's consider only the violent sexual assaults, and use one in six women rather than one in three, since we're only interested in women who will be assaulted in the future and will have to decide whether to report it. Let's also ignore anyone who has not yet reached their teens (since they probably heard little about the Kavanaugh controversy), roughly one in six, and the nearly one in six who are over 65. Let's assume that one in six of the remainder paid almost no attention to the confirmation controversy. Finally, let's consider only the 31% who would have been expected to report being raped in the first place. That still leaves about 5 million teenage girls and women whose decision could have been affected by what they saw during the confirmation process.

If only 1% of them eventually decide not to report their assault because of the same lessons that "Susie" learned, that's 50,000 more criminals whose violent attacks will never get investigated. Some of them will never commit another violent sexual assault - but many sex offenders commit multiple assaults. Based on those numbers, probably at least 100,000 violent assaults will eventually be committed by men whose sex crimes would have been reported to the police if Justice Kavanaugh had chosen to withdraw from consideration, or had his nomination withdrawn, and the lessons of the confirmation hearings had not been driven home over and over again.

There's plenty of guesswork involved - but even if 1% is much too high and the real number is only one in a thousand, the way that the President, Senate Republicans, and Judge Kavanaugh decided to handle the issue would mean at least 10,000 violent sexual assaults by people who would otherwise have been reported. (Most of those would have gone unpunished, so that's not at all the same thing as 10,000 more sex crimes - but in the many cases like Dr. Blasey-Ford's where the victim knew her attacker, it would prevent the police from even investigating him, and thus make it much harder for them to suspect the right person the next time.) And that's just as true if Justice Kavanaugh is innocent of all of the charges against him; the lessons learned would be the same either way.

Dismissing a report of a sexual assault that struck many people as fairly convincing, as well as reports from other women, limiting investigations, and ramming the nomination through ultimately has consequences for the entire nation. Isn't preventing the police from investigating tens of thousands of violent sex crimes (not to mention many more nonviolent ones), because they convinced the victims not to report them, an achievement that should bother the leaders of the Republican Party - even if the party hadn't always made such a big deal about putting law and order first?

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Dagmar Honigmann is in her sixties and has worked as a writer and educator. She is the daughter of German refugees who made separate middle-of-the-night escapes from East Germany after World War II, in her mother’s case with help from an (more...)
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