Sexual assault of student brings home relevance of Kavanaugh case
November 17, 2018
Almost a year since the #MeToo movement first began to capture national attention, the confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in early October sparked anger across the nation.
Kavanaugh’s nomination faced major controversy upon allegations of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape at a high school party. In the weeks that followed, the topic of his appointment devolved into a divisive issue on whether or not sexual assault victims should be believed.
“It’s very polarizing, I’d say people take sides that are aggressive extremes,” senior Rasheek Huq said. “It’s also gotten a lot more emotional too because part of the argument is the basic belief of whether or not we should believe Brett [or] Christine.”
Social media sites flooded with people taking sides while protests across the country led to arrests. For junior Isabel Algoe, Kavanaugh’s appointment sent a message to sexual assault survivors that people of power do not care about their experiences.
“I just think it’s really ridiculous when people say that sexual assault allegations ruin a man’s life,” Algoe said. “Obviously that isn’t true because we have a Supreme Court justice and president that have those allegations against them. When people say that you’re ruining a man’s life, you’re not even thinking about the victim whose life has been ruined and [has been] dealing with all of that trauma for years since it happened.”
Two other women came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, but in regards to the specific party Ford claimed she was assaulted at, many named witnesses did not remember it. Ford’s accusations resulted in Senate hearings and an FBI investigation.
“I was happy with the fact [that] Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh both had a chance to be heard in front of the Senate,” senior Adam Werchan said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t have a problem with the decision; I think if you looked at what some of the witnesses said from both sides, there just wasn’t enough evidence to prove that he did it. I actually do think that she was abused, I just don’t think that it was Kavanaugh was the one who did it.”
The investigation was centered on determining if there were corroborating witnesses at the party and yielded nothing new. Regardless, the controversy brought into question whether accusations should be enough to sway public opinion of potential leaders and judges.
“I’ve had a favorable view of the #MeToo movement, I think it’s good because survivors are really coming forward for the first time, at least confidently,” Werchan said. “Still, I hope that we don’t stray away from the traditions that we’ve had since the United States was formed, like the idea of due process and the assumption of innocent until proven guilty, especially beyond a reasonable doubt.”
According to the New York Times, the FBI investigation took place over the course of a week and nine people were interviewed. Patterson feels a deeper investigation could’ve helped determine the facts.
“Having a longer [investigation] could more easily rule out who’s right and who’s wrong,” Patterson said. “[The investigation] happened over the course of a few days, something like that should be taken seriously.”
Sexual assault of a student
A day after Kavanaugh was sworn in, on Oct. 7, a 23-year-old Bowie teacher was accused of sexual assault of a freshman, bringing the national conversation home for students and staff.
“I’m still disgusted by it, that something like that could happen,” Patterson said. “The teacher who was there abused their power, which makes me as a student feel a little wonky about my relationship with teachers.”
Students are encouraged to reach out to teachers about such incidences, as Austin Independent School District (AISD) staff are legally required to report any allegation of physical or mental harm.
“Each allegation is investigated to determine whether a criminal act occurred,” AISD Associate Superintendent of High Schools Dr. Craig Shapiro said. “School administrators, AISD police and other law enforcement agencies work in concert to gather facts and determine whether there is probable cause to pursue criminal and/or administrative charges.”
Sexual assault is defined as unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, ranging from groping and grabbing body parts to attempted or completed rape, according to AISD Counseling, Crisis, and Mental Health Administrative Supervisor Dianna Groves.
“Adults who perpetrate against children typically ‘groom’ them by earning their trust and affection before committing an assault,” Groves said. “Victims may be reluctant to report out of fear of retaliation and shame. Victims who know and care for their perpetrators may also want to protect them from the consequences of reporting.”
Texas’ age of consent is 17, with less harsh penalties for age differences of no more than three years. Any sexual activity outside of those regulations constitutes as sexual assault.
“I think since [the student] was a minor, from the legal definition he couldn’t give consent,” Werchan said. “I think people in power have to be more careful in things that they do, even if it’s not related to sexual assault.”
AISD policy and Texas state law prohibits improper relationships between students and educators, regardless of age. For Algoe, even if the student were to give verbal consent, the blame lies with the teacher.
“If that kid wanted to be in the relationship, I don’t think he should be punished or looked down on for that at all,” Algoe said. “It’s the adult’s responsibility to not take advantage of a child.”
Sexual Assault: Gender differences and unhealthy relationships
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 82% of juvenile rape victims are female. In the case of the teacher and student at Bowie, the abuser was female and the victim was male.
“I’ve seen students reacting in favor of the teacher or in support of the guy, who I don’t know, hooked up with a teacher,” Patterson said. “I’ve seen people promoting that behavior, but I feel like if it were a man and a girl, there would be much more backlash.”
For San Esteban, it’s important to listen to someone about their experience and honestly consider their story.
“As a society, we tend to have a more submissive view on girls and femininity, which I don’t like,” San Esteban said. “I think everybody should be treated equal, but because we have this view of women being more submissive, anytime there is a guy that comes out and says [he] was raped by a girl, it’s kind of like ‘oh that couldn’t happen, a girl couldn’t do that.’”
Huq believes male victims are often discounted.
“It’s a much bigger deal to most people if a woman is sexually assaulted,” Huq said. “There’s the implication that a male typically has that control over themselves, and if they’re being sexually assaulted, it’s easier for them to push the woman away. I don’t think that’s an assumption that should be made necessarily, but I feel like it’s one that’s commonly made.”
Within relationships, sometimes it can be difficult to read the lines of consent. For San Esteban, it is important to keep open communication.
“I feel like within a romantic relationship it can be really hard to say no,” San Esteban said. “I feel like if you’re putting the signs out there that say no, it is also up to your partner to read into those signs and try and accommodate. Obviously, it’s a two-way relationship, and you have to work with each other.”
High school relationships are often the first romantic and sexual relationships that people have. Algoe believes that teenagers should be aware that they never have to let something happen if they don’t want it.
“We have this culture [that] you owe your partners something, like you’re in a relationship so you’re supposed to have sex,” Algoe said. “I don’t think we have enough people talking about how you don’t have to do that all the time, and it’s not an obligation.”
According to Algoe, some people don’t believe that rape by a significant other can occur.
“Even if you’ve given consent at the beginning, if you change your mind and that person still tries to instigate it, I think that could constitute as sexual assault,” Algoe said. “Most sexual assault is committed by people that you know, and even if starts out as something consensual it can turn into something else really quickly.”
San Esteban believes that following sexual assault, all relationships, romantic and platonic, become more difficult.
“All of a sudden you’re scared of who to trust, and that must be the hardest because we’re social creatures,” San Esteban said. “We like being with people and we like talking to people, but if you suddenly feel alone, that must be so hard.”
Sexual Assault: Gender differences and unhealthy relationships
Reporting and timeliness
A question frequently brought up over the Kavanaugh case was over the time it took for Ford to come forward. People took to Twitter with #WhyIDidntReport, discussing the reasons why they never reported their sexual assault cases or delayed doing so.
“I feel like going outright and telling everyone that you were sexually assaulted is probably pretty scary,” Huq said. “Some people would always say you should just say it outright as soon as it happens, I feel like that can be pretty difficult and I understand why people don’t at first.”
While San Esteban sympathizes with the reasons for not reporting right away, she acknowledges that it makes getting evidence harder.
“I think it’s a lot easier now because of social media,” San Esteban said. “[It has] a big influence on the way we investigate things because almost everything is just caught on camera, or somebody tweeted about it, or something that you can gather. I think you owe it to them listen to [their experiences], but the chance that you can do something about it is smaller because we don’t have that base of records.”
Another aspect present in the Kavanaugh case was the issue regarding whether or not people should be held accountable for their past actions.
“[Incidents from a while ago] should still be taken into consideration, especially if they’re able to prove that it happened legally and there’s legal punishments,” Huq said. “There is that argument that it’s unfair to blame the actions of a teenager on an adult since it’s like 40 years later, but the majority of teenagers don’t do that anyways. I think it still shows part of the person’s character, even if they did it when they are younger.”
For sophomore Jax Caddell, what struck him was Kavanaugh’s complete denial of the alleged assault, as well as the extent of the drinking and misconduct others accused him of.
“I think if you’ve taken accountability for it and it seems like you’ve changed over the years, that’s a different story [than] when you’re completely rejecting it and you just say all this other stuff to look like you’re not that guy,” Caddell said.
Throughout the #MeToo movement, numerous people in power have been accused of sexual assault. For San Esteban, the lack of consequences for important public figures accused of these kinds of crimes is troubling.
“That’s what is wrong with this situation is that if he did do that, he was put into an official political position where he has power over other people,” San Esteban said.
Effects & seeking help
In addition to physical trauma from sexual assault, it can also lead to psychological effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Depending on how violent that interaction was between the two people, it can be anything from a bad memory to something that haunts them for the entirety of their life,” Patterson said. “It can also have romantic effects, like in the future [if] that person were to go on to pursue a romantic relationship with somebody else, they might feel discouraged to engage in an intimate relationship because of the experience that happened to them prior.”
It can be extremely beneficial for victims to find support in friends, family, or other trusted adults. Depending on their comfort level, they might feel better going to people they know or reaching out to a counselor with no personal involvement in the situation.
“I feel like starting with a supportive group of friends is the way to go,” Patterson said. “Then from there you can direct to an official or a counselor or a therapist, somebody that is trained to deal with these experiences specifically.”
For Algoe, the suggestion by adults to report such things to a parent or teacher is a good idea but unrealistic for some. Under #WhyIDidntReport, many of the stories discussed a fear of being blamed.
“If the parents don’t even know that the kid is sexually active, they’re not going to go to them if they were raped,” Algoe said.
Those who prefer to discuss the situation with someone removed from the situation can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. According to CNN, the line saw a 201% increase in calls during the Kavanaugh hearing.
“Because young people are generally at greatest risk from dates, acquaintances, relatives and other trusted adults in their lives, it’s important for them to have easy access to support services,” Groves said. “Someone who is assaulted by a friend or loved one is unlikely to call the police—they may however reach out to a counselor or advocate who can guide them through the process of reporting to authorities and ultimately help them sort out the difficult and confusing feelings of guilt, anger and betrayal.”