The past few weeks have been difficult for many—especially survivors of sexual violence. The Senate hearings that ultimately resulted in Judge Brett Kavanaugh being sent to the Supreme Court served as a reminder that we still have a long way to go toward respecting individuals like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who report sexual assault allegations.
As I wrote for the University of Chicago Press’s Chicago Blog, process matters.
Unfortunately, the hearings became partisan rather than focused on the most appropriate process for evaluating allegations of sexual violence.
From the beginning to the end of the half-hearted investigation into Dr. Blasey Ford’s and other women’s allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, the Senate did everything wrong—in contrast to what those of us in medicine call a trauma-informed approach, which respects the autonomy and dignity of survivors.
As I wrote at the link above for the Chicago Blog,
In my book Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives, I shared stories of my observations as a physician working with trauma survivors, including many who experienced sexual violence. I began writing the book in an effort to understand how we can promote more empathy, resilience, and nonviolence among individuals and within society. Over my career, I have especially struggled to understand how we can help victims of violence heal and find their own strength and resilience.”
As I learned while writing Phoenix Zones, a spirit of justice is critically important—both to the health and wellbeing of survivors and to society more generally. In the context of sexual violence, justice requires a fair and respectful process that accounts for individual vulnerabilities.
There is some hope regarding the restoration of a just process. After Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Chief Justice John Roberts requested that the Tenth Circuit investigate ethics questions related to the behavior and seating of Judge Kavanaugh. At a time when values such as justice and regular order have come under attack, I’ve been cautiously encouraged by Chief Justice Roberts’s actions, which suggest that he is taking seriously at least some of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.
There is no doubt that we need to closely examine the merits of many of our existing institutions, but we also need to ensure that, in doing so, we uphold the principles that matter most—including respect, fairness, compassion, and the right to be protected from bodily trespasses and other serious harm.
Every day, the news serves as a reminder of how these principles are under attack. One of the most recent egregious examples is the evident murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey and the international community’s slow response to hold Saudi Arabian officials accountable. In some cases, international leaders appear to have sacrificed principles for profit and perceived personal advantage.
If we need a reminder of the principles we should stand for, inside and outside the United States, we need only to read Mr. Khashoggi’s column in the Washington Post. As one of his editors noted, he wrote “out of a sense of love for his country and deep faith in human dignity and freedom.” We could all do more of the same, whether we are public officials, journalists, or citizens.