Two women last week became part of political battles they likely would have preferred to have no part in. They certainly would rather have carried on with their professional and personal lives without the attention of media and without having to relive and explain personal and painful details of their childhoods.
Both instances involve men seeking office: one undergoing confirmation to a long tenure on the nation’s highest court; two others running for a two-year term in the Washington state Legislature.
In the case of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor, earlier this summer wrote a confidential letter to one of her senators, alleging that when she and Kavanaugh were both teenagers he had sexually assaulted her at a party.
Wary that stepping forward would leave her open to personal attacks and with the expectation that Kavanaugh would be confirmed regardless, Ford initially declined to make her allegations in public. Last week, however, Ford decided to come forward to tell her story, and as expected, Ford’s attorney says she has been “deflecting death threats and harassment.” Ford has offered to testify in Washington, D.C., before the Senate Judiciary Committee but has asked that the FBI investigate the allegation and interview witnesses before that testimony is given.
Republicans and President Trump, perhaps chastened by the #MeToo movement, had tried to appear respectful of Ford, but nonetheless have displayed an attitude that they’d rather just get this over with so they can move forward and put Kavanaugh on the court, regardless of whether Ford’s allegations have merit. (Trump returned to form Friday morning, tweeting that had the attack on Ford been “as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed,” ignoring that many sexual assaults, particularly those involving date rape, are never reported.)
Democrats, too, have not been above attempting to time the release of Ford’s letter to use as sand in the gears to at least slow the process if not derail Kavanaugh’s nomination.
A continent away in the other Washington, Republican Jeff Sax, a former Snohomish County Council member, who is running against Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, for one of two House seats in the 44th Legislative District, has taken it upon himself to release records that have trained a spotlight on another young woman against her wishes.
Sax last week launched a website that published documents related to a 1996 investigation by state and county authorities into allegations of physical and sexual abuse by Lovick, while he was a trooper with the Washington State Patrol and a Mill Creek City Council member. While some names and relationships are redacted in the documents posted, news stories that followed the documents’ publication identified Lovick’s daughter as the purported victim in the assaults and Lovick’s estranged ex-wife and his son as witnesses in the reports.
Even in the absence of those stories, it would not have been difficult to ascertain the identities and relationships in the documents, in part because of information that was not more carefully redacted.
Both the daughter, Sabrina Combs, and her bother, Jeffrey Lovick, have strongly denied any assaults took place. Lovick’s ex-wife has not been located to make a statement. But Combs’ statements should carry the greatest weight.
“I want everyone to know that the allegations against my father, John Lovick, are 100% false,” Combs wrote Sept. 14 on her Facebook page, one day after the Sax campaign website went live.
It appears the website was Plan B for Sax and his campaign. He and campaign consultant Chad Minnick shopped the police reports and other documents they had in their possession to The Herald, The Seattle Times and at least one Seattle TV news station and a public radio station.
The Herald, as was discussed in its Sept. 13 story, scrutinized the documents and worked to confirm their authenticity. The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield interviewed Lovick several times and was provided statements by his adult children, who also responded to follow-up questions by phone and email.
The Herald, as did other media outlets, initially declined to publish a story because there had been no charges and no enforcement action following the investigations more than 20 years ago, and Combs denies any illicit acts had ever taken place.
It was only after Sax and Minnick published the documents online that The Herald decided a story was necessary, in part to allow a response from Lovick and Combs. The caution that The Herald and other media outlets showed in initially declining to publish the documents should have given Sax and Minnick pause about pursuing their publication, especially considering their political motivation.
Saying he felt “morally compelled” to make the records public, Sax — without having talked with Combs and allowing her a say in the matter — published the documents online.
Sax’s attempt at a statement of concern for Lovick’s children is unimpressive.
“This will undoubtedly bring up painful memories for the survivors of Lovick’s alleged abuse. It hurts me deeply that holding him accountable will remind them,” Sax said in a release provided to The Herald.
Sax’s protestation of concern fades in light of Combs’ denial of the accusations against her father and her immediate request that the website be taken down out of respect for her privacy. Sax has refused, even under threat of a defamation lawsuit from Lovick’s lawyer.
Combs earlier statements to The Herald in denying assaults by her father appear to have been made freely, and a reading of a 5 1/2-page statement that was posted to her father’s Facebook page provides a detailed account that refers to a strained relationship with her birth mother, who she asserts as being vindictive toward her father and responsible for false allegations made to police. Her statement also makes clear a strong appreciation for her father and respect for his public service, which she has assisted as a volunteer on past campaigns.
“I am proud to be a Lovick and follow in my father’s footsteps of service and leadership,” Combs writes.
Lovick does not escape some criticism for his part in relying on his children to help clear his name. True, they are adults, and can make their own decisions about such matters. But Lovick could easily have shown more discretion by, at least, obscuring his daughter’s contact information from the statement that was posted to his Facebook page.
As of Friday night the website remained online. We’ll add our voice to that of Combs’ demand that Sax and Minnick take down their website. Lacking further evidence and giving full consideration to Combs’ request, there is no public interest in the documents.
One of the truths that should have become clear as a result of the #MeToo movement is that women should be the ones to decide when and how to share their experiences related to instances and allegations of sexual harassment and assault. That requires providing them a forum for those experiences when they elect to brave the spotlight and respecting their wishes when they refute claims and ask to avoid that spotlight.