Heading off to an Ivy League school was a family achievement. The University of Pennsylvania of the 1980s was throwing off its all-male vestiges, but the ivied fraternities dominating the campus center remain. I learned a lot. Like many young women in the 1980s, like Christine Blasey Ford, I learned that in spaces dominated by white, wealthy, drunk, entitled young men, women had their place. Attending campus parties meant being pawed at, but back then “rape” was a stranger danger, not something to guard against at school.

Sophomore year, I learned a new term: Date rape. A campus flier offered an urgent talk about this new thing. I valued giving it a name, but had already passed that course.

One in three women experience sexual violence, mostly committed by intimate partners or acquaintances. Sexual assault often creates lasting psychological and emotional trauma, at higher rates even than combat. It remains one of the least reported and least convicted crimes in the nation.

Why? Women are rarely believed. Witness the way Republican leaders and so many men have responded to the accusations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Despite growing evidence corroborating Ford – that Kavanaugh and his close friend Mark Judge were known to drink excessively, that Kavanaugh socialized where women were routinely sexually denigrated – the white, male Republican leadership is standing firm with Kavanaugh. Then there’s the outright mockery. “So what?” is the response of Trump, his son, and so many conservative commentators, as if a violent, unwanted, attempted rape and other lewd, unwanted, sexual behavior should be par for the course for 15-year-old American girls, and a harmless rite of passage for teenage boys. Family values, indeed.

And then there’s the blame. Ford was at the party voluntarily, and like the others accusing Kavanaugh, drinking was involved. That’s enough for many to shift blame to the woman, as if drinking gives a pass to male sexual assault. It does not. But this shift to empower male dominance and subordinate women is the precise feature of pushing Kavanaugh’s admission to the highest court in the land. The rights of women to control their own sexual lives and reproduction, to make choices outside of male control, is precisely what is at stake.

So we arrive at this unseemly juxtaposition: A white, Christian, 15-year-old girl allegedly violently sexually assaulted, and right-wing religious leaders fall all over themselves to excuse that behavior so that a future 15-year-old girl can’t end a pregnancy caused by her rapist. Franklin Graham simply lies, “She said no and he respected it and walked away” while Ralph Reed ignores the allegations altogether, preferring to threaten midterm disaster if Kavanaugh is not pushed through immediately. And Mitch McConnell, who refused Merrick Garland even a hearing for almost a year, wastes no time on Ford’s allegations, instead promising Kavanaugh’s imminent ascension to a gathering of so-called Christian conservatives.

Two weeks ago, I was honored to be one of a delegation of Maine attorneys who traveled to meet with Sen. Collins about Kavanaugh. Collins and her staff were clearly lining up arguments to vote for, not against, the nominee. We advocated that respect for the rule of law depends on respect for the Court. Collins waved that away. Concerning the legitimacy of the President, despite Russian meddling, over 20 convictions, likely illegal conduct and illegal campaign contributions involving the Trump campaign? Collins said unless Russia altered actual votes, a fraudulent President is entitled to appoint a Justice, even swing the Supreme Court far to the right for generations to come. Even a partisan political operative whose White House work under Ken Starr and President Bush is being kept hidden, which Collins also expressly supported during our meeting.

That was before Kavanaugh lied under oath before the Judiciary Committee. That was before Ford’s allegations of sexual assault were made public, before other women stood up to speak truth to power. In the days since, Kavanaugh refused to support an FBI investigation to shed light on Ford’s accusations. Collins agreed. Kavanaugh refused to ask that witnesses at the party and in the room testify to the committee. Collins agreed.

Ford’s accusations and long silence are more than credible. In the context of the time, given Kavanaugh’s reputation, they are regrettably typical. Senator Collins may vote for Kavanaugh nonetheless, appointing another Republican Justice with credible sexual misconduct allegations to preside over us all, undermining the collective respect for the Court and the rule of law.

Conservative commentator David Frum said earlier this year, “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” If Sen. Susan Collins votes to place this unfit, unapologetic political activist with these troubling questions on our nation’s highest court, she will be voting to reject our democracy.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Brunswick Town Councilor.

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