Lawmakers Should #BelieveSurvivors—and Stop Kavanaugh

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school, when she was just 15 years old, sparked nationwide protest last week. Now, a new report reveals that Blasey Ford is not the only survivor with a story to tell about the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge.

Yesterday, a report in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow gave voice to another survivor who claims she was assaulted by Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez told the magazine that the Supreme Court nominee forcefully and aggressively exposed himself to her without her consent while they were both first-year students at Yale:

Ramirez said that, when both she and Kavanaugh were freshmen at Yale, she was invited by a friend on the women’s soccer team to a dorm-room party. She recalled that the party took place in a suite at Lawrance Hall, in the part of Yale known as Old Campus, and that a small group of students decided to play a drinking game together. “We were sitting in a circle,” she said. “People would pick who drank.” Ramirez was chosen repeatedly, she said, and quickly became inebriated. At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction. Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words, as that male student and another stood nearby. (Ramirez identified the two male onlookers, but, at her request, The New Yorker is not naming them.)

A third male student then exposed himself to her. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she said. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” She recalled remarking, “That’s not a real penis,” and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to “kiss it.” She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic, in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married,” she said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.” She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. “Brett was laughing,” she said. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,'” she said. “It was his full name. I don’t think it was just ‘Brett.’ And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there.”

Ramirez acknowledged that there are significant gaps in her memories of the evening, and that, if she ever presents her story to the F.B.I. or members of the Senate, she will inevitably be pressed on her motivation for coming forward after so many years, and questioned about her memory, given her drinking at the party.

And yet, after several days of considering the matter carefully, she said, “I’m confident about the pants coming up, and I’m confident about Brett being there.” Ramirez said that what has stayed with her most forcefully is the memory of laughter at her expense from Kavanaugh and the other students. “It was kind of a joke,” she recalled. “And now it’s clear to me it wasn’t a joke.”

According to the report, at least four Democratic Senators were aware of the allegations when the story was published, and at least two had launched investigations. “This is another serious, credible and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanaugh,” Senator Mazie Hirono told The New Yorker. “It should be fully investigated.”

Blasey Ford has been demanding an investigation into her own claims from the Senate Judiciary Committee, a select group of lawmakers tasked with advising the President on judicial nominees. Feminist leaders, in solidarity with Blasey Ford, demanded that the Senate delay any vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination and launch a trauma-informed investigation into her claims—but politicians who support Kavanaugh’s nomination have instead pressured her to testify before the committee so that they can continue to expedite his confirmation hearings.

Some Republican Senators, in fact, told The New Yorker that they had also been made aware of Ramirez’s claim prior to this weekend—and, in response, attempted to accelerate a confirmation vote on Kavanaugh’s seat. Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, had declared last week that they would vote on his nomination Thursday, following testimony from both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh.

In the wake of Blasey Ford’s courageous decision to come forward last week, feminists called and emailed Senators to demand they vote no on Kavanaugh’s nomination and do all they could to launch an FBI investigation into her allegations. They pushed back on rhetoric questioning the motives of survivors like Blasey Ford, who came forward 36 years after her assault, by sharing their own stories of silence with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport—on the same day that dozens were arrested for blockading Senate offices in protest of Kavanaugh’s continued confirmation hearings.

Today, that activism continued across the country.

This morning, anti-Kavanaugh protestors took over a rotunda in the Russell Senate office building in D.C. and swarmed the entryway to Senator Susan Collin’s office. (Collins has been a consistent target for those opposed to Kavanaugh, as she and Senator Lisa Murkowski are viewed as the most likely Republicans to swing to “no” votes on his nomination.)

On campus at Yale, students similarly occupied the halls, and over 1,200 women alumnae signed a letter declaring their support for Ramirez and Blasey Ford. “We are coming forward as women of Yale because we have a shared experience of the environment that shaped not only Judge Kavanaugh’s life and career, but our own,” they wrote. “We are committed to supporting all women who have faced sexual assault, not only at Yale, but across the country.”

Activists across the U.S. also participated in a National Walk-Out and Moment of Solidarity in support of Blasey Ford and Ramirez this afternoon organized by a coalition of groups—including the Women’s March, United State of Women, the National Women’s Law Center, End Rape on Campus and the Feminist Majority.

In D.C., feminists marched to the Supreme Court in protest of Kavanaugh’s nomination and the Congressional politics attempting to silence survivors and dismiss credible allegations of sexual violence. Movement leaders like Tarana Burke, Andrea Pino, Cecile Richards and Tamika Mallory formed the front line.

Elsewhere, activists and allies—including celebrities like Kerry Washington and Rachel Bloom (and the staff of Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal)—participated by posting photos of themselves on social media in all-black outfits with messages of support for Blasey Ford and Ramirez under the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors. Women across the country walked off the job, or posted from their desks.

Ramirez told The New Yorker that she stayed silent about the events of that night because she was initially embarrassed about them—but years later, her perspective has changed. “Even if I did drink too much, any person observing it,” she told the magazine, “would they want their daughter, their granddaughter, with a penis in their face, while they’re drinking that much? I can say that at 53, but when I was 19 or 20 I was vulnerable. I didn’t know better.”

Ramirez added that she wanted to publicly tell her story to bolster the claims of Blasey Ford, who has faced harassment and character assassination attempts by Kavanaugh’s supporters in the wake of her allegations.

“What does it mean,” Ramirez asked the reporters rhetorically, in an ominous moment, “that this person has a role in defining women’s rights in our future?” Like Blasey Ford, Ramirez explained that she came forward because she is concerned that staying silent about her own experience would allow Kavanaugh not only to evade culpability, but to serve on the nation’s highest Court—without any demands of accountability or consequences for his behavior.

“This isn’t just a fight about what happened to Dr. Blasey Ford,” Shannon Coulter, founder of the Grab Your Wallet campaign encouraging boycotts of companies benefitting from hateful policies in the Trump era, posted on Twitter before the walk-out. “It’s a fight to be able to define what happened to her as wrong. The men of Senate Judiciary Committee are trying, once again, to file overtly illegal behavior under ‘boys will be boys.’ We will not let them do that.”


Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|