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'Atlantic': Brett Kavanaugh And The Problem With #BelieveSurvivors


Later today, we're going to find out whether the Senate is moving ahead to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, however that vote goes, it is certainly not going to be the end of the story. Exactly a year ago today, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault in an investigation in The New York Times. The #MeToo movement is radically changing our discourse around women and sexual harassment.

The Kavanaugh nomination has led to another movement and hash tag, the #BelieveSurvivors movement. Now, our next guest has some complicated feelings about that. Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, and she wrote a piece titled "The Problem With #BelieveSurvivors." And she joins us this morning. Thanks for taking the time.

EMILY YOFFE: Glad to be here.

GREENE: So why'd you decide to write this piece?

YOFFE: I am a big supporter of #MeToo, of women, especially what we're seeing - long-silenced women come forward and tell their stories. I think it's all to the good, although it's causing a lot of wrenching conversation. And people who come forward absolutely need support from loved ones, family, friends, a therapeutic community if they seek that out. And they should be believed within that community.

My concern is that this hashtag cannot apply when a specific man is accused and some kind of adjudication, investigation or life-altering effects happen. We simply can't believe one party over another just on the basis of someone coming forward. That is not how justice works.

GREENE: So what are you asking for practically? I mean, how do you both tell women and tell survivors of sexual assault that they will be believed if they come forward but then also add, but we're not sure that this man did this. You've got to show the evidence. Like, how do you - how do you handle that?

YOFFE: Well, as I said, David, we're hearing a lot of testimony from women saying, here is something that happened to me. And they're leaving it at that. And there have been interesting stories from women saying, I'm not going to name this person. This happened a long time ago. I've thought about it. It's not going to do any good to disrupt his life or mine.

OK, so that's one set of issues. And that is fairly self-contained. But as we saw with the Kavanaugh hearings, when someone is accused, we need some way to weigh the two sides because sometimes we have men - we've seen in the #MeToo movement - saying, as with Louis C.K., yep. What these women said is right. I did it. Oftentimes we don't.

And I think we can draw some concerning lessons from campus, where over the past six years or so there's been kind of a revolution in Title IX. This is the federal law that governs - that means no sex discrimination on campus. And under this has been an effort to - in an effort to eliminate sexual assaults on campus - and what could be more worthy? - a lot of misjustices have happened. And systems have been put in place that are fundamentally unfair.

GREENE: Misjustices - you're saying misjustices - I mean, that the accused have not been treated fairly. And I know this is something you have written a lot about when this has happened on college campuses. What happens to the accused? What have you seen happen on college campuses that you say has been unjust?

YOFFE: If you come forward with a report of sexual misconduct against you, whoever does that is entitled to support, advocacy, help. And the people charged with doing that should believe you and help you. But that can't the bleed over into the investigation and advocacy process. And unfortunately, that happened.

That same point of view - the accuser is telling the truth, and we don't believe the accused - became kind of a fundamental underpinning for a lot of these adjudications. Young men who say they were grossly and unfairly treated have been bringing lawsuits by the hundreds. And they've been increasingly meeting with success in the courts, with the courts saying, wait a minute. This is America. You can't have systems based on a pre-determined assumption.

GREENE: At the end of the day, I mean, the central question really seems to be, is there a way to protect the accused while still encouraging women to be able to speak up about what could be painful and humiliating experiences? I mean, how do you protect the accused without sending a message to survivors that is basically, you've got to prove it?

YOFFE: That's the question, isn't it? I don't have the final answer. In some ways, we can look at this Kavanaugh - wrenching Kavanaugh experience as what we don't want to do and, in a little partial way, maybe what we do want to do because once Dr. Christine Blasey Ford reluctantly came forward, I think the country was helped by having a public process, a process in which she could tell her story. Now, it is an adversarial process. And there was attempt to knock her story. That's what happens.

But I felt at the end of the day, they didn't chip away at her, and her credibility remained intact. And I thought it was really helpful to hear the account of someone who said she has been through this. Equally, a lot of people were distressed by the extreme anger and aggressiveness and partisan attacks of Brett Kavanaugh.

Now, he was entitled to be very angry. I have spoken to many young men who've been through this process on campus. Their lives have all been profoundly changed. Even people who were cleared say they'll never be the same. So it's one thing to express your anguish about what happened. It's another to go on an absolute endless attack. And lawyers I've spoken to said if their clients had acted like this on campus, they would have been found responsible for what they were used of.

GREENE: Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. Thank you so much for taking the time for us this morning. We really appreciate it.

YOFFE: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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