October 19, 2018
What Other Rights Do America’s Leaders Not Take Seriously?
Discussions of the charges of sexual assault and abuse leveled against then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh almost invariably include some mention of our now being in “this #MeToo moment” and how, going forward, we must respect and respond to victims of violence, who need to know that their claims will be thoroughly heard, investigated, and handled by the relevant authorities.
Violence against women and girls is so widespread that in America, one woman in six will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime; internationally, the number is about twice that.
Indeed, sexual violence, and impunity for that violence, are shockingly common. They happen in the havens of privilege and entitlement in which now-Justice Kavanaugh came of age, in the child detention centers for undocumented U.S. asylum seekers and immigrants, and across rural and urban America, where, detail for detail, personal stories recently shared with me match those recounted by the women and children with whom my organization works in Kumasi, Ghana, and Kisumu, Kenya.
Here in the U.S., more and more accounts of credible, traumatic experiences continue to emerge. One by one by one, compelled by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her own sexual assault as a 15-year-old girl, women and men have come forward to share long-buried hurts, in a near deluge of wrenching witnessing. Tragically, too few of these alleged assaults have been addressed through a credible investigation, appropriate mechanisms for determining accountability, even proper care for the victims.
Those steps were not taken in handling the multiple claims against Justice Kavanaugh, despite the intense media attention and the future of our Supreme Court in the balance. Nor is this how allegations raised by women and girls are handled in impoverished urban settings around the world, where there is scant public interest and no TV cameras running. Rather, women’s claims are routinely ridiculed and dismissed, often followed by vicious backlash against the accuser by the accused, his friends or family, or those in power.
Alarmingly, the very same “bro” behavior has taken place here, in this higher-than-high-profile case. But make no mistake: the travesty we have all just witnessed was no accident. The disregard evidenced by nearly all Senate Republicans for Dr. Ford and her raw and guileless testimony is just the most visible manifestation of the disdain in which our current U.S. leaders, from the White House through the halls of Congress, hold the many rights at stake with this Supreme Court appointment, from women’s rights to voters’ rights to LGBTQ rights, to workers’, prisoners’, and consumers’ rights, to indigenous peoples’ and immigrant rights. Given the sliver of Justice Kavanaugh’s record we’ve been allowed to review, and the rightwing politics of those who have secured him in a lifetime appointment, we know that our rights to health care, housing, education, clean air and water; the rights to not be tortured in detention, to not be shot by a cop in the street, to speak one’s mind, and to have one’s case adjudicated by a Supreme Court that cherishes facts and truth above all, are now on the line.
Already profoundly compromised is America’s commitment to making these rights real for everyone. In far too many cases, the fundamental rights of those without power, voice, or cash exist only on paper. Those whose activism and irredeemable sacrifices have boldly helped solidify those rights feel they are losing ground, their hardwon legal advances more vulnerable to revision or rescindment than we had believed possible. Almost daily, new attacks — on our free speech, the right to asylum, the presumption of innocence, our right to a fair and speedy trial, our sovereignty over our own bodies – lend more credence to their fears, and ours.
The rest of the world is watching. The American president cozies up to dictators, shrugs at their atrocious adventurist war-mongering and the brazen murder of their dissidents, and slurs our own free press here at home, where women and minorities and immigrant families continue to be roundly abused, their concerns ignored. Other leaders, used to taking their cues from us, must have realized by now that the U.S. no longer stands for human rights worldwide or protects them here at home.
It is, therefore, a do-or-die “#MeToo moment” — #MeToo for victims of sexual violence, and #UsToo, for those of us who continue to believe that America must light the way as a lead defender of fundamental human rights, as the beacon guiding others, through our example, to hold these rights sacred and protect them.
Isn’t that what the “Equal Justice Under Law” guarantee on the Supreme Court building means? Or, with a leadership driven by bigotry, greed, and short-sightedness, does the “Under Law” part now mean that power and privilege get to dictate to whom justice is due?