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Monday, December 17, 2018

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Social Media Spotlight: #MeToo movement changes perception of sexual misconduct allegations


MeToo Christine Blasey Ford swearing in front of the Senate judicary committee last Thursday. She told her story of how Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s. | Via Wikimedia Commons

Christine Blasey Ford swearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. She described an alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980s. Her testimony led to many posting their #MeToo stories on social media. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In 1991, Anita Hill testified in front of an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining her accusation of sexual harassment involving then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas to the entire nation.

Almost 27 years later, Christine Blasey Ford sat in front of the same committee — now consisting of four women and 17 men —and sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, retelling her experience of sexual assault that allegedly involved Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  

“I think what’s changed, whether you can credit the #MeToo movement or other things, there’s a greater awareness now that a vast majority of sexual assaults are not reported,” said UH political science professor Robert Carp. “Many of them are reported but much later.” 

Widespread support

Joe Biden, who was the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair at the time of Anita Hill’s testimony, recently apologized for not being able to stop the attacks on Hill, as she was smeared by the media in 1991 after making her sexual harassment allegation public, according to Vox. While Ford’s credibility continues to be questioned, people have supported her across social media such as Twitter, where users protested for a thorough investigation on the allegations.  

In one post, individuals chanted “we believe survivors” at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, in a Washington D.C. restaurant.  

After President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh, Ford came forward to speak about an incident where the nominee allegedly sexually assaulted her during a party, sparking an FBI investigation after Ford testified Thursday.

Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-IA, said on Friday this will delay the full Senate vote for no more than a week, according to CNBC. Following Ford’s accusations, two women — Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick — came forward with their own allegations of sexual misconduct involving Kavanaugh.  

As of now, the parameters of the FBI’s investigation include only Ford’s and Ramirez’s accusations. A vote is expected this week.  

‘An awful replay’

The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch — one of the three branches of government — and is the final interpreter of the constitutionally of federal laws. The Court is made up of nine justices, all appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  

Supreme Court justices serve for life unless they retire or Congress impeaches and convicts them.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which contains 21 members, gives a recommendation to the rest of the Senate on the president’s nominee. Three senators remain from 1991’s committee that heard Hill’s allegations — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT; and Sen. Grassley.   

Although Democrats like then-Senators Biden  and Ted Kennedy voted against Thomas’ confirmation during the full Senate vote, the Associate Justice was confirmed under a democratically controlled judiciary committee, according to Business Insider. 

Jim Granato, a political science professor, said this is the first time he’s seen a sex crimes prosecutor lead the questioning in a confirmation.  

Carp said there’s a tendency to defer to the committee, particularly along party lines, but said he thinks each senator will vote for themselves in this confirmation.  

“If you lived through the Clarence Thomas thing, then this is kind of an awful replay of those things,” Carp said. “Unless you’re very salacious, these are things people would rather not have brought out in public.  

“I don’t think she has anything whatsoever to gain and a lot to lose,” he said. 

Changing tendencies

While some people haven’t changed, Carp said there’s a tendency to take women’s charges more seriously than in the past.  

When he was growing up, Carp said women were generally labeled as troublemakers who exaggerated incidents, and men were believed as long they had good credentials.  

“There’s less likelihood of giving the man the benefit of the doubt now,” he said.  

In the past, Carp said people didn’t talk about these incidents when they happened, but now people are willing to talk about it.  

“Ford came across as credible,” Carp said about her testimony.  

When a senator asked Ford how sure she was that Kavanaugh was the perpetrator, she answered she was 100 percent sure. 

“It’s pretty significant to be 100 percent sure,” Carp said. “It doesn’t mean she’s right, but unless you believe she’s a liar, that’s a pretty strong statement.”  

Granato said Hill’s and Thomas’ own hearing was similar to Kavanaugh’s — “high drama, very, very emotional.”  

Granato also said Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment, and Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.  

Hill was a coworker of now-Associate Justice Thomas, Granato said, and she made statements about inappropriate encounters with the nominee while they both worked at the Department of Education.

In regard to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Granato said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, are Republican senators that could oppose the nominee’s confirmation. Flake is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

“My guess is that people will go back to their corners and will believe what they believed in the beginning unless there’s something amazing — (a) factually probable thing that could change people’s minds,” Granato said.   

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