Jurisprudence

Watching the Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearing as a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Assault

Cruz speaks in front of a chart listing sentencing recommendations and Jackson's sentences for child pornography offenders
Sen. Ted Cruz questions Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

I went into Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing excited to participate in such a historic event as both a citizen and a first-time legal commentator. I had worked as a chemist for 10 years before going to law school and eventually making my way to the People’s Parity Project, where I have the privilege of advocating for court reform and a justice system that works for all people. I am not naïve; I was ready for bad-faith attacks on Jackson’s record and underhanded remarks about her (impeccable) judgment and character. What I was not ready for was the constant, retraumatizing questioning about childhood sexual assault from senators who clearly do not care about actual survivors.

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Many of the Republican members of the committee, led by Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, returned again and again to Jackson’s sentencing of child pornography offenders. Hawley seemed eager to share the horrifying details on day one of questioning, with Cruz and Graham taking particular glee in discussing “prepubescent victims” on day two.

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These senators would have you believe that they were just highlighting the heinousness of the crimes, but the contrast between their questioning and Jackson’s responses gave the lie to their utter lack of respect and care for survivors. When Jackson talked about survivors in her courtroom telling her that they feared they will never have normal relationships because of what happened to them, I started crying. I felt so seen in that moment because, for the first time, the frame of the issue was not about how bad the perpetrator was, but how profound of an impact this kind of crime has on its victims. There was no Fox News highlight-reel-courting “prepubescent victim” talk from Jackson, only a trauma-informed acknowledgment of the impact of childhood sexual assault on its survivors.

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When I was 6 years old, I was assaulted by a priest at my Catholic school. I was fortunate enough that my assault was not recorded like it was for the survivors whose stories the Republican senators at last week’s hearings so callously shared. But even without that kind of a public record, being assaulted has had an incredible influence on my life. Despite being married for 15 years and having four children, like the survivor who wrote to Jackson, I am tortured by the fear that I can never have a normal relationship after what was done to me. How do I have a trusting relationship after being groped at 6 years old? How do I forget the priest telling me how bad I was and that everyone else knew it? It does not go away, and it is hard for most people to understand.

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That is why it is such a relief to hear from people like Jackson who are willing to sit with that pain and share space with those of us still trying to make sense of what happened and move forward. I have rarely felt so seen by someone other than a fellow survivor as I did hearing Jackson’s testimony. She openly considered the fears of survivors of never having a normal relationship or developing agoraphobia because they are afraid that everyone knows what happened to them. In the sea of cynicism and callousness that this hearing was, every time Jackson spoke to the experience of survivors and the consideration owed to them has been an island, and I am grateful for that.

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Ted Cruz couldn’t see past retribution and political points. Josh Hawley could not handle actually sitting with the pain of survivors like me. Lindsey Graham couldn’t even handle sitting in the room for a fact check. I am an infantry veteran of the war in Iraq, part of a huge New York Irish family, and a policy advocate who regularly shares all of my failures for public consumption—I don’t offend easily. Despite all of that, I could barely sit through any of the questioning from those trying to use my pain and the pain of my peers as a cudgel against the only person in the room who actually gave a damn.

I am so grateful for Jackson’s careful consideration of survivors of childhood sexual assault. Among the myriad other reasons highlighted before the hearings, and her incredible demeanor throughout, Jackson’s willingness to center survivors, despite the difficulty of honestly facing such incredible pain, is more than enough for me to know her character. I am proud to support her confirmation to the Supreme Court and look forward to her bringing that same compassion and judgment to its deliberations. Thank you so much, Judge Jackson, for seeing us and holding us in your heart.

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