Thursday, October 04, 2018

Three Further Echidne Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Debacle

1.  Mark Twain is supposed to have apologized for a long letter by saying that he didn't have the time to make it short.  That's something I can identify with.  My series about the Kavanaugh hearings, with a focus on getting back to basics, is growing longer and longer, because my thoughts about the basics are still unripe.

But the true message of the first two posts in that series might be this:

Republicans want women to have only procreative sex, while men should have access to any amount of recreational sex they may desire.
The planned restrictions on abortions and even contraception are intended to satisfy the theocratic fraction in the Republican base, and that fraction wants to make it very hard for women to have equal opportunity.  Not to be able to control one's fertility is a necessary for women's second class status.

But the side-effect of that goal is to make recreational heterosexual intercourse less available for men, too, because restrictions on abortions and contraception* will make intercourse much more expensive for women, and it takes two for that particular kind of tango.

None of this is visible in the current Kavanaugh debates, except indirectly, in the arguments that "boys will be boys" and so on.  It is, however, visible in the wider debate about abortion, extramarital sex and so on.

2.  Matt Lewis, a CNN commentator, made a statement which many others have made.  It's about the presumption of innocence and due process and so on.  Here's Lewis:

Brett Kavanaugh is being tried in the court of public opinion right now. His political future hangs in the balance, and I do think that we have these two competing values right now. Either you believe the women or you believe in the presumption of innocence. You really can't do both. I think it's mutually exclusive. And I do -- and by the way, I think that most of the time women are telling the truth. But not always. There are cases like the Duke lacrosse case, there‘s several examples where people do lie. I fear that we are headed in a direction where, if you've got a big TV show coming out next week, or a book's about to drop, or you're about to get elected to something --
LEWIS: -- anybody could lodge a charge against you. And if we just assume that you're guilty, that could torpedo your chances. I don't think we want to live in a country like that either.
First, the court of public opinions is not the kind of court in which the concepts of "due process" and the "presumption of innocence" are defined.  The court of public opinions crucified Hillary Clinton over a period of three decades, for instance.  It's not an objective court for anyone.

Second, Kavanaugh is applying for a job from which it's almost impossible for him to get fired, and in that job he has tremendous powers of affecting the lives of all Americans, including women.  It's relevant to examine his history, to find out what his biases might be.  Indeed, I would argue that we want the most ethical and unbiased people on the Supreme Court.

Third,  if we take Lewis seriously in his argument that you either believe "the women or you believe in the presumption of innocence," then someone will always be sentenced in that court of opinions.  Those who believe Blasey Ford and the other accusers think that Kavanaugh is guilty.  Those who believe that he is innocent think that Blasey Ford is making a false accusation.  So she is then found guilty in the court of public opinions.**

I have always interpreted the plea "to believe the survivors" as meaning that the statements of women who come forward must be listened to carefully and taken seriously.  Those whose job it is to hear them should not have prior biases against all women and should not behave disrespectfully or prejudge the cases. This has not always been the case among the police or the prosecutors, and that's what needs to change.

Fourth, it's awkward, for the purposes of this discussion, that people  judge Kavanaugh's guilt or innocence at least partly on the basis of party politics.  This means that it's the Republicans (who don't want women to have reproductive choice in the first place) who keep bringing up the concept of false rape accusations, the way Bret Stephens does in his New York Times column today:

A few moments have crystallized my view over the past few days.
The first moment was a remark by a friend. “I’d rather be accused of murder,” he said, “than of sexual assault.” I feel the same way. One can think of excuses for killing a man; none for assaulting a woman. But if that’s true, so is this: Falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself. It inflicts psychic, familial, reputational and professional harms that can last a lifetime. This is nothing to sneer at.
The second moment, connected to the first: “Boo hoo hoo. Brett Kavanaugh is not a victim.” That’s the title of a column in the Los Angeles Times, which suggests that the possibility of Kavanaugh’s innocence is “infinitesimal.” Yet false allegations of rape, while relatively rare, are at least five times as common as false accusations of other types of crime, according to academic literature.

Since when did the possibility of innocence become, for today’s liberals, something to wave off with an archly unfeeling “boo hoo”?

So.  The study Stephens links to finds the prevalence of false rape accusations to be 5%, based on the assessments of police officers***.  That's pretty rare, and it's a statistical average from one study.

But in the Kavanaugh case more than one woman has come forward to accuse him of sexual violence or sexually improper behavior.  What is the probability that all those accusations are simultaneously false?

3.  That angry Kavanaugh face we saw in the Judiciary Committee hearings is the face of the next Supreme Court Justice.  Will Kavanaugh be unbiased on the bench or will he take his revenge out on all American women?  My impression is that Clarence Thomas did just that.

*  See my second post in the series for more evidence that an anti-contraception future might be in the offing for poor women dependent on Title X programs.

**  And this is a major reason why women who have been raped don't come forward.  In the worst cases coming forward amounts to yet another rape:  of one's reputation.

***  The study includes in the false allegations all cases where the accuser retracted her or his accusation.  But those may not always be actual cases of false allegations.  This is an example of a case in which a woman retracted a rape claim but when the (serial) rapist who raped her was finally caught after another rape, he was found to have a video of raping the woman whose claim was retracted.  In other words, claims may be retracted for reasons other than that they actually were false.