We simply cannot understand the long chain of consequences arising from what we do, or even the origin of our own impulses. Reinhold Niebuhr
Let me start with three points about which I want to be crystal clear.
1. In my opinion, Brett Kavanaugh should not sit on the Supreme Court because he will join other conservative-leaning judges who have demonstrated a high level of disregard for human rights, civil rights and environmental rights and responsibilities.
2.. I am not defending Dr. Christine Ford’s allegation nor am I disputing what Judge Bret Kavanaugh believes to be his truth.
3. I am not saying or implying that Dr. Ford or any victim should, as several women asked me,”have kept her mouth shut.” Speaking up and out validates experiences, feelings and effect, increases awareness of and intolerance at work and other places where it is not safe for a woman to be a woman.
Instead, this is just me thinking out loud on paper about beliefs such as, “If you lie, you will steal, and “A leopard cannot change its spots,” the related assumptions and the decisions” and actions that can sprouts from these beliefs.
That elephant that has been sitting, virtually undisturbed, in the middle of the nation’s living room for centuries is sexual harassment in the workplace. It was 2007, when Tarana Burke, an African American activist disturbed it by starting ‘MeToo’, without the hashtag. Burke intended to give voice to “Survivors of sexual assault in underprivileged communities.” But, since the effects of a disturbance, is at best unpredictable, it is not surprising that other women – more prominent women – followed her lead and propelled us, for better and for worse, into a global movement that makes it impossible to pretend not to see that 24,000 pounds in the middle of the room.
But it was President’s Trump’s nominee for the Supreme that compelled another woman to take to the national stage and say “MeToo.” Of what did she accuse this sexual predator? ‘He pushed me into a bedroom, turned up the music, put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming, held me down, laughed drunkenly and attempted to remove my clothing to force himself on me. I thought he was going to rape me. I was afraid he would accidently kill me. I was 15-years old.’ Who was he? A sitting Judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, Bret Kavanaugh. He was 17. The year,1983.
Dr. Ford said, “My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”
The now fifty-three (53) year old Bret Kavanaugh’s response to the now fifty-two )52) year old Christine Ford’s allegation: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
And, for the victim, the trauma can show up as a diminishing sense of physical and psychological safety, self-blaming, shame, unworthiness, fear, and/or an uncleanliness that is not easily exfoliated. Thus, the impact on fifteen (15) year old Christine was no less devastating and enduring than for the each of the victims (most of whom was older than she) who came forth in 2017 and 2018.,
On its face, this is not good. The accusations against Judge Bret Kavanaugh had a number of people concerned about his ability and maybe even his willingness to protect Roe v Wade and support other rights of women that would come before the court during his lifetime of service if he was confirmed.
While the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” is not applicable to sexual harassment or sexual assault, should it matter that there are no known allegations of sexual misconduct against Bret Kavanaugh for the last 35 years?
A 2009 Juvenile Justice Bulletin states, sexual offenses against teens by teens “surge” during mid and late teens but 85-95% of sex-offending youth have no arrest or reports for future sex crimes (1999, 2002, 2007). Those who have a future arrest, it is far more likely to be for non-sex crimes such as property and drugs. While this does not mean none of the 100 plus adult sexual predators did not sexually abuse as a teenager, it does seem to indicate that sexual misconduct as a teenager is not a predictor of behavior and attitude toward women as an adult.
In less than 18 months, over one-hundred powerful, high-profile men have been fired, resigned, stepped down, or suspended for workplace sexual harassment and/or assault. The number of victims attributed to each man ranged from several to multiple with over 200 being the highest number reported for one man. Characteristically, these men had:
(1) acquired status in the industry in which they worked for ten (10) years or more (2) connections with key people in related industries (3) personal wealth, (4) power over the careers of women (5) Threatened to or ended the careers of some women(6) a cadre of people who served as gatekeepers and protectors.
Is there an appreciable difference between the 17-year old Bret, referred by some as a rapist, and the one-hundred plus men ranging in age from early thirties to eighties with some engaging in predatory practices that began before the 1970s or 80s and continued until they were #MeToo-ed in 2017 or 1218?
Dr. Ford described 17-year old Bret as a, “stumbling drunk.” The second accuser and some who knew and socialized with him from senior year in high school through his freshman year in college, the time frame of the accusations, shared similar memories of Bret as “belligerent and aggressive when he drank excessively which he often did.”
Judge Kavanaugh, on the other hand, adamantly disagreed and remembers himself, as someone who “liked beer, sometimes had too many but “never drank to the point of passing out or not being able to recall what happened.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Juveniles account for one-third (35.6%) of those known to law enforcement to have committed sexual offenses against other minors. Of those who are identified, 46% of child-on-child sexual abuse occurs between the ages of 15 and 17 at school or an unsupervised activity.
This may be alarming but should not be surprising when coupled with what brain science is telling and teaching us about the not-yet-fully-developed adolescent brain on alcohol. When the teenage brain which generally does not reach maturity until middle twenties (24-25) is saturated with beer and other alcohol, it’s frontal lobes cannot assume full responsibility for self-control. The cerebellum cannot assume full responsibility for eye-hand coordination. The hippocampus cannot assume full responsibility for keeping track of what the drinker does. The hypothalamus cannot assume full responsibility for regulating bodily functions and monitoring heart rate and body temperature.
Another factor is the amount of alcohol the adolescent brain is forced to tolerate on each drinking occasion. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2014) asked, Why Colleges Haven’t Stopped Binge Drinking: decades of attention with not much difference and a 1983 self-report survey, “The Drinking Patterns and Problems of College Students” which included 6115 college students from every state reported 20.2% were heavy drinkers.” These and others identify
binge drinking as a common practice among college and high school students. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, defines binge drinking as four (4) or more drinks guzzled down in rapid succession. While the survey did not use the term “binge drinking,” the letter written by Bret (1983) to seven classmates attending a party at a rented beachfront property that said, “warn the neighbors that we’re loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific punkers among us,” seems to imply they would be binge drinking.
Also, tolerance for the “immediate negative effects” of binge drinking is higher for the adolescent than for an adult. Therefore, the adolescent brain carries a higher toxic load which may be why this type of drinking causes an “alcoholic blackout” – not the same as passing out. Because the hippocampus is not fully functioning, an adolescent experiencing a blackout is “fully awake” but may have little or no memory of events or behaviors.
This alcohol-induced anemia would not absolve the 17-year old of Bret from the sexual aggression of which he is accused. And since, based on my limited knowledge, neuroscience is not definitive about memory recovery of the 17 to 24-year old binge drinker, 53-year old Bret may well have, as some said, “lied under oath.” That would be troubling but it would also be another story.
Given what we know, on the one hand about teenage brain development and the low rate of recidivism and the need, on the other hand, to continue to, “Grapple with the gravity of harassing behavior,” what moral reasoning goes into determining if a person alleged to have been untrustworthy 35 years ago is still as untrustworthy today?
Peer pressure and peer influence is both positive and negative. But, during early and late teens, children are especially vulnerable to their particular peer group. This, according to social psychologist and others is the reason for the carefully crafted self-presentation that shows itself in behaviors such as clothing and how they are worn, drinking, dancing and interactions between members of the opposite sex. This is driven by an emotionally charged need to belong and the approval that comes with it. This make an additional demand on a brain whose ability to assess risk and potential consequences is developmentally incapable.
If the Bret who was “never a legal drinker in high school because the drinking age was increased to 21 on July 1, 1982” and the writings in his high school year book that prompted “1947 Red Scare” type of questioning, are indications of who he is today, should it not be easy to find examples of his disregard for the law and proof of sexual misconduct that occurred during his eleven years on the Circuit Court of Appeals – 2006-2017?
Albert Ellis, founder/author of Rational Emotive Therapy coined the phrase, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” This is Inductive reasoning that would hold all the time for everyone were it not for the X-Factor, IF. This can only be true all of the time and for everyone if everything remained constant meaning individuals and their environments do not change. This does not, however, mean it is never true. But it is safe to say it is not true more often than it is true as evidenced by us imperfect adults who were to some degree, in our youth, “Marked by rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to access consequences, but came through that phase of life and are now on the other side of it with our secrets in tack.
This is after the fact. Bret Kavanaugh, for better or worse, is a Supreme Court Justice. But this whole process is an opportunity to ask, what does this mean for we will do with what we know in the future? Knowing is not the problem. It is being willing to ask, ourselves and each other what kind of reasoning are we applying to make the “decision about how to proceed?”
The endless work done by Juvenile Justice advocates on behalf of incarcerated young children and early teens found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery with a firearm to determine where they should be tried (Family or Adult court), where they should be imprisoned and for how long they should be punished offers insight into the kind and quality of decisions that are made when the question, “What do we do with what we know,” is asked and answered over and over again.
The 2012 Supreme Court Juvenile Justice decision held that the practice of automatically transferring juveniles 17-years old and younger to adult prison to serve mandatory life sentences is unconstitutional (except in rare cases) and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And, the 2016 expansion of that ruling includes resentencing and/or paroling juveniles, and when warranted, applying parole retroactively. All because “A teen who commits a crime, even a terrible one such as murder, is not forever defined by that one act.”
In her opinion Justice Elena Kegan wrote, “Adolescence is marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.” But she acknowledged, they also have a heightened capacity for change.
This raised questions about the rights of the victim and family members against the right of a guilty-as-charge adolescent. Thompson of the University of Michigan acknowledges the pain and offers the following. “Concentration on the crime. misses the point of the Supreme Court Ruling. Nobody is disputing the heinousness of the crime, no one is disputing what led them there… but based on the science, is it or is it not cruel and unusual punishment to condemn to life someone whose brain is not fully developed?
So, if it is reasonable to consider reducing the life sentence of a 17-year old who is guilty of first degree murder, felony murder and mutilation, thereby, increasing his chances for early release because he is demonstrating the capacity to change from an adolescent “marked by “rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences, to a responsible adult, must we ask whether it was reasonable to attempt to keep Bret Kavanaugh off the Supreme court because of the allegations that stems from sexual aggression when he was 17-years old?
Let’s suppose the answer to this question is “Yes.” That only leads to other more pressing questions, at least for me. Does this start us down the “Leopard can’t change its spot,” slippery slope? If so, are we prepared for the slide?