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Sexual Assault And Forgiveness


The vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, or not, has been delayed for a week to allow for an FBI investigation into several allegations against him of sexual assault and misconduct. Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic watched the testimony this week of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. She's written about being the victim of a sexual assault in high school and said before Thursday's hearings that she tended to believe Dr. Ford based on her own experience.

Caitlin Flanagan joins us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

CAITLIN FLANAGAN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We were left with the impression you thought you'd have - that you believed her story to the - and did not believe him.

FLANAGAN: You know, this is just speaking for myself as just one American. I absolutely believe what she's saying. It's one of those stories that sounds very true and very believable.

SIMON: And yet, you've said on Twitter you're not certain that what you consider to be - you used the word, lies, and inconsistencies is enough to keep him off the Supreme Court.

FLANAGAN: Well, what I think is that she's completely believable, but we don't have any evidence. So now we have to take a pause. And I was so very happy when I heard that there will be this FBI investigation because she's come forward in such a strong way, and it's time for the FBI to start talking to some people.

SIMON: I know it's a what if, but what if the FBI comes back after a week and says, you know, we can't make a determination one way or another, but we can tell you that's not what boofing means, that's not what Devil's Triangle means, and the judge lied about this?

FLANAGAN: You know, it's - you get into these legal issues, and we don't know. He certainly - maybe we've looked at him more closely than other candidates, or maybe he is more of a rascal than other candidates have been if - even if he didn't commit this assault.

But it's so interesting. I was talking to my husband this morning, and he's very stirred up about this and upset that he might get confirmed. And I said, well, honey, if you took out every man in a position of authority in the country who did something like this, we wouldn't have many left.

SIMON: Do you really think that's true? I mean, have most men in this country committed sexual assault?

FLANAGAN: I don't think most men in this country have committed sexual assault of the kind that we're looking at now. But I would say there's an awful lot of men who grew up when the norms were different. And the things we have not reconciled for 50 years is we have not reconciled the sexual revolution with feminism. And they don't sit easily together, and we're not sure where to go forward. And this is another one of these events that's falling into an area that means a lot to an awful lot of women.

SIMON: You were the victim of sexual assault in high school, and your attacker apologized to you - once, yearbook inscription, another time two years later in a chance encounter. And you accepted it, and this made a difference. Recognizing that Brett Kavanaugh said he did nothing, should there be something - some avenue opened in this country, legally or culturally, that would let people apologize for something that they now know is wrong and cruel and gives them shame?

FLANAGAN: Oh, I think about this all the time. You know, I think apologies and forgiveness - they're probably the only things that can ever really heal after a crime like this has happened. But there is a tremendous risk that a man takes for apologizing right now.

You know, this is what Trump has taught us, in a way - is you don't admit it, you don't admit it, you don't admit it, and you go from strength to strength. And, you know, a man might apologize to a woman in a beautiful email, and she might very rightly use this as evidence of what he did to her and take that to somebody that would care about it - maybe at his work, maybe somewhere else.

I think there is tremendous risks to these apologies. So I don't know what to say about that. I know from a spiritual and moral standpoint, it's 100 percent the right thing to do. I don't know if we've really been very honest with ourselves sometimes in thinking about what risk a man poses to himself by doing that.

SIMON: Caitlin Flanagan, contributing writer to The Atlantic. Thanks so much for being with us.

FLANAGAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.