FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 file photo, protesters against Brett Kavanaugh shout during a rally at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City. Some skeptics of #MeToo activism are hoping Brett Kavanaugh's angry, tearful denial of sexual assault allegations might help fuel a backlash against the year-old movement. But advocates for victimized women say it’s now too powerful to be derailed. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

After Kavanaugh-Ford hearing, does MeToo face a backlash?

September 28, 2018 - 5:36 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Some skeptics of #MeToo activism are hoping Brett Kavanaugh's angry, tearful denial of sexual assault allegations might help fuel a backlash against the year-old movement. But advocates for victimized women say it's now too powerful to be derailed.

The mixed reactions followed Thursday's vehement assertion by Kavanaugh and his Republican allies that he was the victim of a "political hit job" by Democrats. They suggested that Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, was being exploited for partisan purposes.

In a Philadelphia Inquirer column on Friday titled "Kavanaugh creates #MeToo moment for accused men," conservative writer Christine Flowers expressed empathy for the embattled federal judge, who is President Donald Trump's nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

"Through those real tears, the rage came through like a laser and a sword," Flowers wrote. "And for a moment, I felt as if, finally, one man had found the courage to say my life matters."

As for Ford, Flowers wrote: "I think she allowed herself to be used as a valuable tool in the unleashed fury of the #MeToo movement."

On Twitter, in the aftermath of the televised Ford-Kavanaugh hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, there was widespread use of the #HimToo hashtag — which has been used to convey the idea that too many men are being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. Many of the new tweets included hashtags supporting Kavanaugh, including one by conservative activist Candace Owens.

"I'm loving the hashtag #HimToo," Owens tweeted. "It appears to be a movement built of men who have had their lives and families destroyed by false allegations and a lack of due process."

#MeToo activists acknowledge their movement faces resistance.

"If anyone had any illusions that the #MeToo movement's work was easy, the toxic backlash that we are seeing this week from Brett Kavanaugh, Republican senators and the White House should correct that misimpression," said Emily Martin, a vice president of the National Women's Law Center.

"But we also know, from everything we have seen in the past year, that whatever happens with this nomination, the voices of women and other survivors will not be silenced," Martin said in an email. "I know that ultimately the transformative power of this movement will prevail."

Already, there are indications that many other women have been emboldened by Ford's willingness to testify publicly about her alleged assault as a 15-year-old.

RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, estimated that its National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 200 percent increase Thursday over normal volume. In Washington state, a woman accused a legislator of raping her 11 years ago, saying she was inspired to speak out as she watched the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. "I'm done being silent," tweeted Candace Farber.

However, Noreen Farrell, executive director of San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, worried that some sexual abusers also might feel emboldened if Kavanaugh eventually is confirmed for the Supreme Court.

"With the right pedigree, ample resources to secure the backing of high-profile friends, and the right air of entitlement, many privileged predators will continue to rise to position of immense power influencing the lives of women," Farrell said.

Jess Davidson, who leads the advocacy group End Rape on Campus, worried that the Kavanaugh developments might be "re-traumatizing" for victims of past sexual assaults.

"It's an exceptionally difficult time for survivors," she said. "But it's also reinvigorating — showing why we need to do so much more work."

Jason Hilden, a former police officer who's now a stay-at-home dad of two, said he had been a supporter of the #MeToo movement, but now feels it has "gone too far."

"Women, for the longest time, have been put on the back-burner, in terms of sexual assault," said the 39-year-old Hilden, of Evansville, Indiana. "I hate it when people say, 'Well, she brought it on herself,' and things like that. I hate that. But it's gotten to the point that anybody can say anything, and it's believed now."

Hilden watched much of the Senate hearings during which Ford said she was "100 percent" certain Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s.

Hilden said he found Ford's testimony compelling, and he believes "something happened to her." But he doesn't believe Kavanaugh did it.

"You show 100 people a picture, you're probably going to get 100 different perceptions of what's in that picture," Hilden said. "We need to find a way ... to get to the truth without unjustifiably ruining someone's life."

As the mother of three adult sons, Priscilla White said the idea that one of them could see his life turned upside-down by an unsubstantiated decades-old charge is disconcerting.

"That's not just the view of a mother with boys. I think that's just an American view," said White, 67, of Leawood, Kansas. "Everybody has someone to feel that way about, whether it's your husband, your brother, your father."

The #MeToo movement exploded worldwide in October 2017 after The New York Times and The New Yorker reported detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, it has toppled powerful men in a wide range of fields — from entertainment to journalism to politics to high tech, among others.

Jennifer Braceras, a conservative political columnist based in the Boston area, said Weinstein — who faces criminal charges — was a worthy target, but she suggested #MeToo has led to some excesses.

"I feel strongly that the movement should be about prevention and about protecting people from harassment and assault," she said. "It should not be focused on taking the scalps of powerful people for public relations purposes."

"I'm not saying people shouldn't speak out," Braceras added. "But we need to encourage people to come forward in real time. ... To speak out as soon as possible, not when politics are involved."

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Associated Press writer Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

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