In recent weeks, the nation has been gripped by the ugly controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. On one side, Kavanaugh’s supporters describe him as a “carpool dad.” That was the prevailing narrative until several of his high school and college classmates, including Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward to recount a very different version of Kavanaugh.
One common thread among the various accounts of a young Kavanaugh’s violence, whether it be sexual assault or a bar fight, is alcohol. Hearing the stories of Ford, Ramirez, Swetnick and others paints a familiar, horrifying picture for us college students. We all know either someone like young Kavanaugh or someone who has been hurt by such a person.
Just like attorney Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 sparked a deep conversation about workplace harassment, the stories of Ford and the others should begin a national conversation about the kind of excessive consumption of alcohol, and the consequences of such behavior Kavanaugh engaged in during his high school and college years.
There were many disturbing revelations and reactions throughout Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, from the unhinged diatribe by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., against the Democrats to President Trump’s open mockery of Ford at a Mississippi rally. I cannot begin to imagine how sexual assault survivors across America must have felt as they watched Ford’s harrowing testimony and the following wave of vitriol from Kavanaugh’s defenders.
The fight to keep Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court bench may have been lost, but good can still come from this. For example, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network sexual assault hotline saw a 147 percent spike in calls. More can and should be done, because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of young men like Kavanaugh who have committed sexual violence while under the influence of alcohol, and thousands of young women who have been victimized like Ford.
I have no doubt that, even without alcohol, Brett Kavanaugh has and will continue to use his power and privilege to hurt women. His judicial record of anti-choice decisions is a clear example, as was his disturbing exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., where he deflected a question about his own history with alcohol and instead asked the Senator if she had ever gotten blackout drunk. Klobuchar’s father has struggled with alcoholism, a fact that she revealed in the hearing, and his retort was a cruel, disrespectful low blow.
We need to change the culture surrounding alcohol and drunk behavior. Kavanaugh should have been called out three decades ago — before he assaulted Ford and others — by his group of friends who undoubtedly noticed his violent tendencies. Instead, his friend group enabled him and each other in what they described in their high school yearbook as the treasurer of the “Keg City Club — 100 Kegs or Bust.”
In our culture, on campus and beyond, alcohol is often seen as an excuse for bad behavior. Brett Kavanaugh and Brock Turner, the ex-Stanford swimmer who raped an unconscious woman, were both exonerated in the eyes of thousands of people because of alcohol. Now, of course, white male privilege played an arguable role (would a woman or man of color be so easily forgiven?) but we should not ignore how alcohol makes it easier to overlook their violence.
While reading accounts of Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and at Yale, I could not help but recall the story of the president of one University of Michigan fraternity (I will not name names) who told a sorority president that “it isn’t my fault that your girls can’t handle their liquor” when she confronted him about the sexual assault perpetrated by his fraternity brothers. That sentiment was basically replicated on the floor of the Senate and in the media. Alcohol washes violent men of their sins but not women.
From Greek life to Capitol Hill, America needs a fundamental reset on how we view alcohol and drunk behavior. We have already done so with drunk driving — just look at any number of “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” commercials. If hurting someone in a traffic accident while under the influence of alcohol is looked down upon in the harshest terms by society, then so should all kinds of alcohol-related violence.
I’m sure everyone who has drunk alcohol has said or done something regrettable and problematic, sometimes very problematic. We all need to hold ourselves accountable for what we do while under the influence, no matter how severe the mistakes we make are. I understand why using alcohol to absolve ourselves of our mistakes is so tempting, as the alternative is shame and guilt. But that shame is telling us that we have done something wrong, and instead of burying that feeling we should use it as a catalyst for change.
If a person cannot control themselves or remember what they do while drunk, they have a responsibility to make sure they do not get to that point, whether it be by getting sober or moderating their drinking. Every perpetrator of alcohol-induced violence was responsible for themselves getting to that point. I understand that alcohol is addictive, and I do not mean to shame people struggling with alcoholism; however, our society’s attitude towards alcohol, in my opinion, fuels the self-denial that keeps many people from getting the help they need.
By holding ourselves and those close to us accountable for our behavior while drinking, instead of sweeping it under the rug, we can hopefully begin a culture shift that can prevent future Brett Kavanaughs before they hurt others.
Ali Safawi can be reached email@example.com.