- In October 2018, Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the US Supreme Court after two women, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, accused him of sexually assaulting them in the 1980s.
- “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” a new book from New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, details a third sexual misconduct allegation.
- The book reports that Max Stier, a prominent DC-based lawyer, told the FBI during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process that he saw Kavanaugh “with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.”
- But the book ultimately found that the woman Stier named as being assaulted by Kavanagh “declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.”
- For women who came of age in the ’80s, Kavanaugh’s confirmation process brought back some painful memories about the prevalence of sexual assault and how survivors weren’t always believed or supported when they came forward.
- In 2018, Business Insider interviewed three people who shared their recollections of attending Yale University at the same time as Kavanaugh and Ramirez.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In October 2018, Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the US Supreme Court after he was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s, resulting in an emotional and acrimonious confirmation process.
For many women who came of age and went to college in the 1980s, it brought back some painful memories of their own experiences with sexual assault – and of not always being supported in coming forward.
Deborah Ramirez, one of Kavanaugh’s classmates in Yale University’s Class of 1987, accused him of exposing himself to her at a party during their freshman year in the fall of 1983. The FBI investigated her allegation as part of a supplemental background check into Kavanaugh.
Now, the painful and contentious allegations against Kavanaugh been re-surfaced by a new book, “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh” written by New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly which examines Kavanaugh’s young adulthood, personal development, and the accusations that he assaulted women.
Pogrebin told WMAL”s “Morning on the Mall” that “the reason for this book was to go back to a process that left many people feeling unsatisfied and unfinished. There is so much bitter partisanship people bring to the story that makes people see what they want to see.”
In the course of their reporting, Pogrebin and Kelly found even more corroboration for Ramirez’s allegations, finding that “at least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge.”
In an excerpt published in The Times’ Sunday Review, they say they also turned up completely new eyewitness report from Washington-based lawyer Max Stier, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh, who informed the FBI and at least one senator about another alleged Kavanaugh assault he said he witnessed.
Pogrebin and Kelly reported that Stier claimed to have seen Kavanaugh “with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student”- an incident with similarities to Ramirez’s allegation.
But an editor’s note later added to the excerpt included an important disclaimer left out of the initial except clarifying that the woman Stier named as being assaulted by Kavanagh “declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.”
The Washington Post also revealed that they had come across Stier’s allegation in 2018, but did not publish it “in part because the intermediaries declined to identify the alleged witness and because the woman who was said to be involved declined to comment.”
“Our ultimate conclusion at the end of the book is that these things likely happened when Brett was a young person, but that he’s been a better man in the past 36 years,” Pogrebin said specifically of the Kavanaugh allegations on WMAL.
Pogrebin said that her and Kelly’s reporting “did not turn up a trail of women in his wake, which you often find with #MeToo stories…he’s been by, all accounts, an upstanding citizen, a church-going family man, and he’s also been widely admired on both sides of the aisle” she added.
‘It’s taken a lot of us a long time to realise that things that occurred were misconduct’
During the Kavanaugh hearings in the fall of 2018, Insider interviewed three people who attended Yale in the ’80s. None had first-hand knowledge of Ramirez’s allegation against Kavanaugh.
But they all recalled an alcohol-fuelled and sometimes predatory campus culture that didn’t have adaquate resources to handle sexual misconduct when it did arise.
They said that sexual assault and the stigma around discussing and reporting it were much bigger than the specific allegations against Kavanaugh, pervading both Yale’s campus and American culture at the time.
One of Ramirez’s acquaintances at Yale, who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the matter, said they believed Ramirez’s allegation based on their experience knowing her and given the climate at the time.
“Three words I think describe Debbie as I experienced her were guileless, genuine, and friendly. She was also shy, not attention-seeking or dramatic in any way,” the person said.
“I just feel very strongly that Debbie did this out of a sense of duty and obligation and not out of political motivation,” they added. “If I had any way to know the actual truth, I would bet my house on it.”
According to her lawyer, Ramirez spoke to the FBI about her allegation and provided the bureau a list of witnesses who could confirm it.
But subsequent reporting by The New Yorker and Polgerin and Kelly themselves found that the FBI did not interview at least 25 witnesses Ramirez’s lawyers provided to them as people who could corroborate her allegation – despite many reaching out to the bureau on their own volition.
“Anyone who was a teen or a young woman in those days had experiences like that,” Ramirez’s friend continued. “Was it confined to Yale? In my experience, no. I think it’s taken a lot of us a long time to realise that things that occurred were misconduct. The concept of date rape, for example, was considered cutting-edge at that time.”
Julie Heller, who graduated from Yale in 1988 and also knew Ramirez, told Business Insider that while Yale wasn’t “a breeding ground” for sexual assault, in her experience, she didn’t have any reason to doubt Ramirez’s allegation or other former Yale students’ characterizations of Kavanaugh as a heavy, aggressive drinker.
“I didn’t see any bad behaviour by [Kavanaugh] personally, but it’s hard for me to imagine all the things people are saying aren’t true,” she said of the Ramirez allegation. “I knew many people who drank at Yale, and most of them didn’t get belligerent or sexually assault anyone.”
In the wake of the Kavanaugh controversy, many survivors of sexual assault have gone public with their stories of why they didn’t initially report their assaults – and in many cases, of being revictimized or shamed when they did.
Heller said she believed that many survivors of sexual assault in the early ’80s didn’t report them because she and her peers “didn’t have the verbiage” to describe instances of assault that weren’t rape.
She said that when she was assaulted after a party during her freshman year, she didn’t believe that what happened was serious enough to bring to the police.
“I didn’t go to the police because I didn’t think what had happened to me rose to the level of what a police officer would handle,” she said, adding, “I thought to myself, ‘Well, at least I wasn’t raped.'”
‘Yale’s apparatus was there to protect Yale’
Beth Almore, a schoolteacher in Virginia who also graduated from Yale in 1988, told Business Insider that, in her experience, the Yale administration didn’t do enough to address sexual assault on campus – leaving women to take their safety into their own hands.
“During my freshman year, a group of women had made flyers on how to keep yourself safe from sexual assault on the Yale campus and distributed them around the dining halls, which was the best way to reach people before mobile phones,” she recalled. “It named frats you shouldn’t go to, and what is likely to happen if you go to certain parties on campus, and which ones to avoid.”
Almore remembered Yale at the time as being “saturated in alcohol,” with parties every night of the week and both hard alcohol and drugs freely available. She also recalled that despite the stigma around discussing it, “sexual assault was more common than it should have been.”
“Everywhere we went, we had to worry about our safety,” she said.
Heller said that her experience showed that sexual assault could and did happen even to people who took extra precautions to ensure their safety on campus.
“He offered to walk me home from a party when it was late and I knew I shouldn’t be walking by myself,” she said of her assailant. “The ironic thing was that accepting a walk back to my dorm, which seemed like the smart thing to do, is actually what resulted in my getting assaulted.”
Heller remembered feeling “demoralized” when she went through the process of reporting her assault to Yale’s administration.
“I started to go through Yale’s grievance process, which at the time was incredibly demoralising. I did not feel supported at all,” Heller recalled. “The professor I met with told me that since it was a ‘he said, she said’ situation, he and I could each bring three witnesses to back up our stories to the panel, but ultimately the worst thing that might happen to him was being put on academic probation.”
She added: “It was mind-blowing to me. I was so traumatized, and hearing that completely demoralized and revictimized me. So I didn’t pursue it.”
Almore said she and her friends not only had protection plans for parties, but vowed to go straight to the New Haven police and not Yale if they were victims of a violent crime.
“Yale’s apparatus was there to protect Yale and Yale’s reputation, and to limit their own liability,” she said.
She added that while she didn’t have direct experience with Yale’s police, she recalled based on the experiences of many of her peers when she was a student that “women, or anyone who went to the [Yale] police with any type of reporting, not just potential sex crimes, felt unheard, silenced, or ignored.”
A representative for Yale told Insider that while they could not comment on specific students’ experiences and memories, “the policies, procedures, and resources we have in place today reflect a great deal of experience, research, consultation, and input from our community, including our students.”
“As our response to sexual misconduct continues to evolve, we are committed to being a community free of sexual misconduct and providing resources and support that encourage everyone with a concern or complaint to come forward,” the representative added.
The latest Kavanaugh allegation has led multiple lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment, but Pogrebin says those calling for him to be hauled off the bench are missing the point of the book.
“We felt like we were kind of doing right by [Kavanaugh], and obviously all of that is lost now in this discussion,” she told WMAL. “People have their own agendas and they’re using the book to serve them.”
Editor’s note: This story was initially published on October 16, 2018 and was updated on September 17, 2019 in light of the new sexual assault allegation raised in “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh.”
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