Being 'Young And Stupid' Has Nothing To Do With The Brett Kavanaugh Assault Accusations

We need to stop treating sexual aggression as a boy’s rite of passage.

Since the news of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of attempted rape against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh broke on Sunday, I’ve received calls from those close to me wondering what I think about it all.

I’ve spent the last 48 hours speaking to the men and women in my life, reiterating the details (Ford says that when they were both in high school Kavanaugh assaulted her at a suburban house party, an incident her lawyer said she considers an “attempted rape”), and answering their questions. But no matter how these conversations start, they all seem to end in the same place.

“But ... he was a kid,” my nearest and dearest say. “He was just being young and stupid. Are we really going to hold him accountable for something that allegedly happened when he was so young?” Many add the obligatory, “Obviously, if what this woman is saying is true, it’s horrible and wrong.” As if emphasizing the “wrong-ness” of it negates the fact that they don’t believe there should be concrete consequences for said wrong.

The short answer is: Yes. Actions have consequences. And the actions that Ford says Kavanaugh took in 1982 are alarming. She says a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her, ground his body against her and attempted to take off her clothes, all while one of his friends looked on. When Ford attempted to scream, she says Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth to silence her ― something she believed might “inadvertently kill” her. Ford says she was able to escape when the friend jumped on top of her and Kavanaugh. (Kavanaugh has “categorically and unequivocally” denied Ford’s allegation.) To say that an allegation such as this might be disqualifying for a lifetime appointment to our nation’s highest office feels quite reasonable.

The longer answer is: I get it. I believe in giving people the opportunity to change and redeem themselves from past wrongs. I really do. But as someone who has written about sexual violence nearly every day for the past four years, I take issue with people writing off an accusation of sexual assault because a boy was being a boy young and stupid.

I knew a ton of young and stupid boys when I, too, was young and stupid. They may have stolen candy from Rite Aid or smoked weed or, come to think of it, sold weed. (Crimes for which “young and stupid” boys who are not powerful, rich, white men regularly bear long-term consequences for in this country.) But, as far as I know, none of my young and stupid friends held down a girl and tried to force himself on her.

As Rebecca Traister so aptly put it on Twitter: “Much of [the] defensive reaction I’m seeing around Kavanaugh (and not just from the right) suggests that lots of people think a regular part of male development is the stage where boys drunkenly pin down young women and try to assault them.”

We need to stop chalking up sexually aggressive behavior as just part of the male experience. Because when we do, we become comfortably apathetic to the fact that enduring sexual violence is part of the female one.

We need to stop chalking up sexually aggressive behavior as just part of the male experience. Because when we do, we become comfortably apathetic to the fact that enduring sexual violence is part of the female one.

When I brought this up during my conversations yesterday, a few people pushed back: “Well, if Kavanaugh lived an exemplary life without any other missteps after the alleged assault,” they argued, “should we penalize him for one wrong?”

To this, I can’t help but think of the research that shows that people who perpetrate sexual violence are often repeat offenders, and, usually, they learn this behavior from a young age. I believe that if Kavanaugh did actually force himself on Ford, he should be barred from sitting on the highest court in the land. (If you think about it, that’s not really much of a penalty.) 

I’d prefer a Supreme Court nominee who hasn’t been accused of sexual assault, even if the next appointee still wants to gut Roe v. Wade. So, why am I being told I’m asking for too much? Why are we still focusing on a man’s redemption story instead of a woman’s trauma?

Ford told The Washington Post that after the alleged assault, she suffered dramatically in all parts of her life. She struggled academically, socially and in her relationships with men.

“I think it derailed me substantially for four or five years,” she said. Now 51, Ford says she still deals with anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged incident.

The impact and trauma from sexual violence is lifelong. But, somehow, we’re still focused on the perpetrators. We always seem to be focused on the perpetrators. If Kavanaugh’s access to power ― one of the most powerful jobs in the country ― is the most important talking point in this conversation, what does that say about how we value Ford? What does that say about how we value women and survivors?

The conversations with my friends (who, it’s worth noting, are progressive, well-educated people) points to the most disturbing piece of this controversy: Even after the Me Too movement and all of the social strides we’ve made, we’re still valuing the perpetrator ― his opportunities, his success, his access to power ― over survivors.

If Kavanaugh did what Ford says he did, it doesn’t matter if he was being young and stupid. It doesn’t matter if he was drunk. It doesn’t matter if he’s never again attempted to rape anyone. His alleged behavior forced Ford to endure decades of lasting trauma. Is that not enough evidence to bar a powerful man from getting even more power?