Daily Telegraph, Thursday 4 October 2018
It’s something most women know instinctively. The smearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers shows how many men automatically assume that all women are liars – especially, but not only, when they accuse a well-connected man of sexual misconduct.
This week a Senate committee, no less, took part in the ‘shaming’ of a woman who came forward to support the testimony given by Christine Blasey Ford.Dr Ford gave evidence before the judiciary committee last week, graphically describing an alleged attempted rape by the Supreme Court candidate (who is hoping to get a job for life) back in 1982. Yesterday Republican members of the committee released a statement accusing Julie Swetnick, who is herself an alleged rape victim, of lying about Kavanaugh’s behaviour towards women when he was a young man.
The four-page letter also made lurid and uncorroborated claims about her sexual history. If you’ve ever wondered why more women don’t report rape, I suggest you look at what’s been done to Ms Swetnick and Dr Ford – and think again.
Ms Swetnick has contradicted Judge Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony that he drank just the occasional beer, claiming she saw him drunk at parties where women had their drinks spiked and were raped. She also alleges that Kavanaugh and his friends took part in what she describes as ‘gang rape’, and claims they were present at a party where she herself was drugged and raped.
This apparently prompted Ms Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend, if you can dignify him with the title when he dated her for all of two weeks in the 1990s, to issue his own statement. A former TV weatherman, Dennis Ketterer, insisted that Ms Swetnick had never mentioned Kavanaugh or her own rape in the course of their relationship.
It is just possible that she didn’t feel she knew him well enough after a fortnight to reveal such a distressing episode in her personal history. But Ketterer didn’t stop there. He gave a detailed account of her supposed sexual preferences, with the clear implication that a woman who enjoyed consensual sex in anything other than the missionary position couldn’t possibly be trusted to tell the truth about her own rape or other sexual misconduct.
This was the statement released by the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee in a transparent attempt to discredit Ms Swetnick. They apparently can’t see the difference between a witness making allegations of criminal behaviour and, to put it bluntly, a pile of salacious gossip. While it is true that Ms Swetnick has contradicted some of the claims in her initial statement, she – unlike Kavanaugh – isn’t alleged to have broken any laws or assaulted anyone.
The proper authority to investigate her allegations against Kavanaugh isn’t the general public. It’s the FBI and it should have been done in private, by investigators who are used to conducting sensitive inquiries. Ms Swetnick’s treatment has uncomfortable echoes of the retrial of the Welsh footballer Ched Evans, who was acquitted after the judge allowed other men to provide evidence about the type of sex they claimed to have had with the complainant.
It isn’t just Ms Swetnick who has been smeared. On Tuesday evening Donald Trump, who praised Dr Ford last week, mocked her testimony in front of a cheering crowd at a rally in Mississippi. These public events are akin to expensive therapy sessions where the President sounds off against all his enemies, real and imagined, but this one marked a new low.
It also brought into the open something that usually goes on behind closed doors. Any woman who alleges rape or sexual assault can expect to be vilified by the accused, his friends and his defence team. In this country, under new rules on disclosure, every text or email she has ever written will be pored over, in search of supposedly damning evidence such as any occasion when she mentioned enjoying consensual sex.
I’ve never understood the assumption that a woman who agrees to have sex with one man should be assumed to have consented to have sex with someone else entirely, despite her denials. But then I’ve never understood the notion that women habitually lie about sex, randomly accusing men of rape, while men tell the truth at all times – apart from when they’re boasting to their mates, of course.
In the Trump era, the assumption that all women are liars is being openly expressed at the highest levels of government. The smearing of Dr Ford and Julie Swetnick allows us to see just how badly women who allege rape are treated, although we rarely get to hear about it.
This is not about justice or establishing the truth. It’s scare tactics, designed to protect powerful men who have seen their privileges chipped away by the #MeToo movement. Rape complainants don’t lie any more than victims of other serious crimes, and it’s the men who promote such baseless smears who should be ashamed of themselves.