Youth is No Excuse for Assault

In its season premiere this past weekend, “Saturday Night Live” ran a sketch called “80’s Party” that moves through a frat party reminiscent of a John Hughes film, pausing on characters at the party to highlight how their actions from that night haunted them in their current-day careers. It was a silly and spoofy sketch, but underlying its facetious plot is a genuine question that has recently arisen for many college students: how will the actions we make today affect our lives and careers later in adulthood?

The noise surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings has become the most prominent reminder of this question. Of course, the discussion centers on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony of Kavanaugh’s alleged assault on her when they both were in high school. But since then, Deborah Ramirez has come forward to share a story of her time at Yale University, when Kavanaugh allegedly forced her to touch his exposed penis without her consent at a dorm party.

Added to all of this is a statement from Kavanaugh’s first-year roommate, James Roche, who describes college-aged Kavanaugh as a frequent drinker who could become “incoherently drunk,” according to the Washington Post. These are further corroborated by high school acquaintance Julie Swetnick’s reports of a belligerently drunk Kavanaugh exhibiting “abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls” at high school house parties in the early 1980s.

Central to these claims is the fact that all these acts in question happened over 30 years ago. Even if we assume that every woman’s testimony is the truth — which is a whole separate discussion in itself — the question still remains of whether it should matter 30 years later. As the Editorial Board, but even moreso as college students, we believes that yes, these actions still do matter.

Living on such a close-knit campus, nearly every Amherst student has seen the immediate effects of sexual assault, whether it happened to a friend, was committed by an acquaintance or is experienced first-hand. We know the psychological toll sexual assault can have on young people, causing them to withdraw socially or disengage academically. We know that sexual assault can spur depression, PTSD and suicidal thoughts. We’ve seen it, and we’ve lived it. This is no small matter.

And, it is no small matter whether it happened today, yesterday, five, 10 or even 30 years ago. The effects that sexaul assault had on Dr. Ford have followed her well into adulthood, appearing in her couples therapy in 2012 and still a visibly upsetting subject for her to revisit in 2018. It is a feeling that Caitlin Flanagan expounds eloquently in an essay for The Atlantic, which chronicles her heartbreaking story of sexual assault, its consequences on mental health and how it has stayed with her into adulthood. She writes: “By Ford’s account, Kavanaugh’s acts did cause lasting damage, and he has done nothing at all to try to make that right. And that is why the mistake of a 17-year-old kid still matters.” Unlike high school or college, there is no graduation date for sexual assault and its consequences.

If this is the case for the victims of sexual assault, it must also be true for the perpetrators. Ruling out accusations of sexual misconduct simply because they are 30 years old is out of the question. It sends a message to college and high school students that what they do now does not matter in the long run — that immaturity and age somehow excuse acts of violence. It negates the seriousness of sexual assault on campus. Young, careless high school and college kids need to know that their actions now do have enduring effects — for both the victims and perpetrators of assault.