This morning over breakfast, my 8-year old said to me: “How can we live in a world where survivors’ stories are not listened to and a rapist now sits on the Supreme Court?”
I answered: “Shut up, voices in my head; I don’t have an 8-year old (that I’m aware of).”
Then I sat her down (metaphorically, as she was already sitting down at the kitchen table; and yes, it’s a she – she can choose her gender when she can vote and drink alcohol) and said: “We need to talk. You have been reading too much left-wing Twitter again.” Which at the moment is full of crying (literally, so we’re told) and gnashing of teeth, hysteria, incitements to violence, and the obligatory “What am I supposed to now tell my children/students?” soul-searching, implicitly based on the assumption that Justice Kavanaugh indeed is a gang rapist and democracy, not to mention the basic human decency, has failed.
Would should you tell your children or your students? Conscious I have neither, but equally conscious that such basic facts have never stopped anyone in the Age of the Internet from talking about anything they want to talk about, here is what I would say:
Sometimes, when others accuse you of having done something it’s not necessarily true. Remember all those times other kids said you hit them or stole their toy? Well, often you did, but there were also times when you didn’t. The others were lying and you felt outraged about being unjustly blamed. Sometimes we the parents involved believed you and the other kid got a smack, sometimes we didn’t believe you and you got punished for something you didn’t do. Justice system of whatever complexity is made up of human beings who are failable, even your parents, though I want you to forget I ever said that for the next few years.
There are many reasons people lie. Sometimes it’s because they’ve done something wrong but want to deflect the blame onto somebody else and that someone else might be you. Or they don’t like you for whatever reason and want you to get blamed and punished. Or they want a revenge for something you’ve done to them in the past. Sometimes people don’t lie in a sense of intentionally telling an untruth – they might have made a mistake; sometimes they even convince themselves that they are telling the truth about what happened.
Children have parents to adjudicate these matters; adults have the law and justice system to investigate and adjudicate (sorry for the big words, but if you had spent more time reading books like I told you instead of playing “Fortnite” you would probably know them all by now). The adult justice system is not perfect, but it’s got more resources and more scope than your mother and I to try to find out what the truth is.
But this system relies on the rest of us doing our bit to make it work. One important element is to bring up any complaints as soon as something happens to you, when the memories are still fresh. I know it’s sometimes difficult but the most important thing I want you to take from today’s talk is that if something happens to you – if somebody does something to you – that you think or know it’s wrong, I want you to always tell me about it, no matter how ashamed or bad you might also feel about it. I won’t shout at you, I won’t be angry (I might be a bit, but that’s a minor matter in the greater scheme of things so let’s put it aside); you can always trust and rely on me to help you. Together we can put things right.
One of the reasons the whole Kavanaugh debacle turned out the way it did is because Ms Ford made serious allegations some 35 years after the event supposedly happened and apart from her own words there were no other facts available to support her story. That’s unfortunately not unusual under the circumstances. If, God forbid, something like what Ms Ford said happened to her happens to you you need to tell me straight away and we can help the police and the justice system do their jobs. That way, the memories will be still fresh for you, people who might have witnessed something or who otherwise might shed some light on what happened can be interviewed straight away, any any physical evidence can be located. I’m not putting the blame on Ms Ford for not telling anyone at the time, including her parents, about what she said had happened, but the result is that after 35 years it’s almost impossible to get justice, and I mean proper justice as opposed to the political circus we have witnessed over the past fortnight (that’s two weeks, not the game).
This is because the adult justice system is more complex that the parent justice system. And this is in turn in part because under the latter you might at worst get a smack or get grounded, whereas the former can take away you liberty for years – and sometimes can even take your life. Because there is so much at stake – reputations, freedom, even life – the justice system has developed many rules to maximise the chances that the truth will be established and justice will be done. These are things like the onus of proof, the standard of proof, the rules of evidence and admissibility, and so on. They are very important things and they are there for a reason.
As I said at the start – and I will finish on this point because I can see that your eyes are glazing over even thought it’s still only 9 AM – even our justice system is not perfect because people sometimes make mistakes. Now only God knows what has or has not happened that particular night in Georgetown 35 years ago. Many people – for many different reasons, genuine as well as insincere – will continue to maintain that Justice Kavanaugh attempted a sexual assault on Ms Ford and that his whole life, including now, he has gotten away with it without facing punishment (though with his reputation ruined he hasn’t gotten off completely intact either). Even if you believe that – that in this case justice failed – I don’t want you to learn a lesson of despair from it. Instead, I want you to remember that you live under the system of government, which although again far from perfect is also the one that has been historically the most responsive to reform and reversing injustices. May that spirit of the Revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights heroes like Dr Martin Luther King Jr and many many others inspire you not to shriek like a banshee, scream at people and punch them in the face (well the first two groups have had to do much worse than that, but we don’t live in the 18th and the 19th or even the 20th century any more) but to work to make the country better.
OK, your dad’s finished. No, you can’t have a dessert. Are you crazy? You just had breakfast.