How to Avoid Making Sexual Assault a Partisan Issue

In drawing a parallel between the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the current spectacle of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Anita Hill reminds us that, when it comes to the Senate, we haven’t learned much from past experience.

That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.

She goes on to describe what such a protocol should look like.

Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. Again, the senators’ fact-finding roles must guide their behavior. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.

There is a tendency to refer to Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh as merely a he said/she said situation. But the truth is that it is a lot more complex than that and there are people who have the experience and expertise to unravel those threads outside of the tendency to see sexual assault through a partisan lens.

What struck me about the request from Dr. Ford’s lawyers to the Senate Judiciary Committee is that they are asking for exactly what Anita Hill recommended.

The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is ‘mistaken’ and ‘mixed up.’ While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials.

As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before, and FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations. A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.

It is important to note that Dr. Ford is willing to cooperate. She simply knows what the rest of us do about what happens in partisan-infused congressional hearings, as well as the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee appears to have learned nothing from the Anita Hill fiasco.

Keep in mind that what Dr. Ford and her lawyers are demanding is not an attempt to pre-determine the outcome. It is merely a request to allow non-partisan experts to weigh in with their findings. Women of the country (and the men who care about them) are watching to learn whether or not sexual assault allegations will get tossed onto the heap of everything else that is being turned into a partisan issue, further tainting the integrity of the Supreme Court.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.