By Dave Thompson, CFI
Watching the Kavanaugh hearings and subsequent “expert” opinions has me really concerned about the inability of people, from Senators to the average citizen, to be able to independently look at a situation without extreme bias or prejudice.
First, I should explicitly state that I have no idea what the “truth” is and also do not care what political party the complainants, witnesses or accused associate with. My singular focus of this blog is to bring attention to the problem of biases or assumptions and their significant impact on our justice system, and ultimately people’s lives. My other motive is, I needed a break from reading any more comments on social media before I either deleted my account or engaged in a twitter war.
Wait…What party do they belong to?
This is one of the most alarming things to witness in this whole fiasco. It can’t be any more obvious that people who tend to sway Republican are more supporting of Judge Kavanaugh and those that are in the Democratic Party have a stronger presence in Dr. Ford’s camp. Before you send me a response disputing that theory, I’m not stating this is an absolute as many people are uncertain what to believe, but it only takes a quick review of the partisan statements made by the committee and those who are outwardly stating their opinions, to determine on what side of the fence they reside. If you are one of the few that don’t allow your political view to sway your goal of finding the truth, congratulations – you should be just as concerned as I am.
Besides the issue in question, let’s think about this same issue playing out in everyday America. The same people that are posting opinionated tweets, arguing on Facebook or making extreme assumptions about Ford and Kavanaugh – are those that fill the seats of a jury every day across this country. With most people stating their opinions that seem to correlate with a political opinion it makes you wonder how objective they could be on a criminal jury deciding the fate of a defendant or the credibility of a victim who doesn’t agree with their political philosophy.
Can you imagine?
“Mr/Mrs. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”
“Well, your Honor, first we’d like to know the defendants stance on gun rights, abortion and his voting record so we can decide if we like him or not. Same goes for all the witnesses that testified. Other than that, we don’t need to see any more evidence”
“But there’s no evidence”
Welcome to the difficult world of “he said, she said” cases that investigators and Human Resource professionals live in every day. I continue to see arguments that there is not enough evidence that supports the allegations or no evidence that contradicts it. The lack of evidence is common in these cases, especially when they date back decades. The simple fact that more evidence doesn’t exist may be frustrating, but it’s not indicative of innocence or guilt.
There seem to be a lot of concerns regarding Dr. Ford’s memory of the event as well as conflicting stories from witnesses and Judge Kavanaugh. Uninformed people, potential jurors, take these gaps in memory or lack of evidence as a concrete reason to label either party as a liar. However, there is extensive research regarding our ability to remember events and accurately describe them, specifically surrounding traumatic events. Our memory can be altered in a variety of ways that conflict with the actual event without our intent to “lie” about it. Psychologist Joan Cook wrote about this very topic today in an informational article (https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/408940-sexual-trauma-and-memory-we-remember-pieces-as-opposed-to-complete)
“He’s too defensive and emotional”
It seemed that everybody became experts overnight on what would be the appropriate, normal way for a person to respond to allegations of sexual assault. Yes, Judge Kavanaugh became emotional and lost his temper during the hearings. I can understand if the concern about his temperament is directly related to the opinion of how he would operate in his professional duties; but to associate his reaction with truth or deception is not just wrong, it’s dangerous.
If we start to classify people’s guilt based off of their level of emotion, regardless of the context of the situation, can you imagine how many of us would be perceived guilty? I’m sure as you’re reading this you can think of a time you’ve been accused of something – whether you were guilty or not – when people don’t believe you, emotions immediately follow.
None of us know what actually happened all those years ago, except for the people involved. If Judge Kavanaugh is innocent, then imagine how traumatic this experience is and the emotional rollercoaster he and his family have been through. He teared up while discussing his family and his daughter. If the Judge is guilty, his emotion could be associated with a feeling of guilt or the realization his past has caught up to him.
Regardless of the reason, all we have identified is that he answered questions with a high level of emotion; what we don’t know is the actual reason why.
“She waited too long”
Haven’t we learned? It’s almost as if everyone has forgotten all of the issues surfacing over the last few years ranging from Larry Nassar to Bill Cosby and every other celebrity in between. Many of these cases were years old, and the reasons that victims didn’t come forward are many. Fear of embarrassment, disbelief, bystander effect are only a few of the common reasons that psychologists have pointed to for the lack of reporting by victims of sexual harassment or assault.
To the common person, it does seem odd that somebody wouldn’t report an assault immediately after it happened. To the person who has been assaulted, it makes perfect sense.
An incredible story told by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong of a serial rapist in “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America” discusses these misconceptions of how a victim “should” react. Similar to the opinions on Judge Kavanaughs reaction to the allegations; there is no appropriate or “normal” way that a trauma victim should react. Any special victim detective can tell you that each victim is unique and handles their recovery in a different way.
Classifying the complainant’s accusation as true or false based on the way in which they handled the assault afterwards is equally traumatic.
What should we do?
Stop assuming, start listening. “Believe the victim” is starkly different from “Listen to the victim”. Hopefully, most people observing this situation can have empathy for all parties involved and understand that no matter what comes out of this – we will never fully understand what happened. It’s entirely possible that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh are telling the truth. We all have our own versions of the “truth” impacted by time passing, the significance of the event, our perspectives, suggestibility and, of course, alcohol.
Instead of making assumptions, we need to ask better questions. We need to stop with political statements and start with an actual investigative mindset. In any case, we need to allow parties to be heard and sort out the available evidence. Ultimately, we need to restore trust in the “system” that those who are asking the questions are doing so with the intent of identifying the truth.
Those that are responsible for investigating cases like this, or anyone who has the chance to sit as a juror and determine the credibility of a witness; I can only hope the focus is on the truth regardless of the many variables affecting our perspectives.
Our judicial system is built around evaluating the credibility of evidence, due process and fairness to all parties without prejudice. If what we are witnessing right now is considered “justice”, we’re in trouble.