Judge Brett Kavanaugh, alternating between tantrum and pout, would like you to know that he has suffered.
In his opening statement at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday over the allegation that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in high school, the Supreme Court nominee blustered that both the hearing and the delay in his confirmation process have done him enormous harm.
“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed,” he ranted. “The 10-day delay has been harmful to me and my family, to the Supreme Court and to the country.”
Kavanaugh, who has a lifetime appointment as a federal circuit court judge, lamented that he may never be able to teach law again or coach girls’ basketball. He denied Blasey’s allegation and accused those who pushed for the hearing and a delay in the vote on his confirmation of seeking “to blow me up and to take me down” and asserted that the process has “destroyed” his family, his career ― his very life.
Kavanaugh, who has a lifetime appointment as a federal circuit court judge, lamented that he may never be able to teach law again or coach girls’ basketball.
He wasn’t the only one upset about the way things have gone. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) exploded during his time to question Kavanaugh. “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life,” he snarled at the Democrats on the committee. “This is not a job interview. This is hell,” he said. Kavanaugh agreed, saying he has “been through hell and then some.”
“I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through,” Graham told Kavanaugh, asserting that Blasey “is as much of a victim as you are.”
It does seem that Kavanaugh and his family have gone through a difficult time, facing public scorn and even death threats. No people should be made to fear for their safety because they are in the public eye.
But the idea that Kavanaugh has suffered anywhere near what Blasey has allegedly suffered or perhaps even more so is ludicrous. He may resent the way the confirmation process is going. He may be outraged that he isn’t facing a smooth path from one of the nation’s second-highest courts to the nation’s highest court.
But make no mistake: None of that rises to the level of destroying his life. He is not a victim, and what he has gone through is nowhere near on par with Blasey’s experiences. Graham’s equating the two experiences on live television and Kavanaugh’s harping on his personal pain eclipses the very real and severe toll violence exacts on those who suffer it. It gives abusers a way out: insisting on their own suffering to hide what they’ve done to their victims.
In her testimony on Thursday, Blasey recounted that the immediate aftermath of the alleged attack was the worst. For four years after Kavanaugh allegedly pushed her onto a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes and put a hand over her mouth when she screamed, her academic achievement cratered, she said. Only two years into college was she able to “pull myself together,” she told the committee.
The effects have lasted much longer than that. “Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life,” she said, adding that his alleged actions “have haunted me episodically as an adult.” Later manifestations included a fear of flying and a need to have escape routes from any room she entered, including the desire to add a second front door to her house, all due to her resulting anxiety, claustrophobia and PTSD-like symptoms.
What Blasey didn’t get into is what were likely the professional and financial ramifications of what she said she went through. Blasey today is a highly respected psychologist who seems to be financially sound. Yet it’s hard to say what losing two years of academic achievement in college may have meant, as well as the last few years of high school, and what impact that has had on her career trajectory. She didn’t share whether her psychological suffering got in the way of her work or other achievements, and she didn’t share the cost of the therapy she has sought in the years since.
Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. Christine Blasey Ford
But it’s extremely common for sexual violence to take a financial toll on its victims. As Rebecca Greenfield and Janet Paskin detailed recently on Bloomberg, while it’s hard to make a full accounting, given how rare it is for victims to make official reports, the price they pay is likely huge. A number of studies have put the cost of sexual violence at $100,000 to $200,000 for each victim. That includes the costs of medical attention and criminal justice fees, property loss and a loss of workplace productivity. One study of women who had been victims in childhood or adolescence faced 16 percent higher health care costs than other women, even decades afterward. Many take time away from work or even need to leave work for long periods to recover from the trauma.
That could, in turn, cost women their jobs or, at the very least, affect their pay. Research has found that sexual harassment victims often tune out at work or avoid going altogether. In a recent study of women who said they experienced sexual harassment at work, 80 percent changed jobs within two years — vastly more frequently than those who said they weren’t harassed. Many who said they were harassed also cut back on their hours or switched to different industries. And it seems that most of them landed in poorer-paying positions. The women who said they were harassed dealt with far greater financial stress two years afterward, stress that’s akin to having been incarcerated or suffering a serious injury.
That is part of the possible toll that Kavanaugh’s alleged action took on one woman. It’s also worth remembering that she’s not the only one who has come forward. Deborah Ramirez said that he exposed his penis to her, putting it in her face such that she touched it when she tried to brush him away. Julie Swetnick said that she saw him in a line of boys outside a bedroom at a party, waiting to have his turn to have sex with an intoxicated girl inside, and that he was present at a party where she was gang-raped. Both women’s alleged traumas likely came with economic and psychological costs.
Kavanaugh and his family shouldn’t have to face death threats. And it certainly seems he’s impatient with his Senate confirmation process. But he has faced few, if any, repercussions for these alleged actions over his lifetime. At most, he currently risks not being confirmed to one of the most powerful positions in the country. The women who say he victimized them, on the other hand, have had to carry the consequences their entire lives.
Bryce Covert is an independent journalist writing about the economy. She is a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times and a contributing writer at The Nation.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.