Alaskan sexual assault survivors and activists, including members of the state’s Native community, called on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), to vote against confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court during actions and scheduled meetings at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
“As a woman, mother, and survivor, I’m both terrified of and infuriated by the possibility of a Kavanaugh nomination,” Suzy Walsh of Alaska Grassroots Alliance said in a statement. “I am begging Senator Murkowski not to appoint a serial sexual abuser to the Supreme Court. At the end of the day, women’s rights are human rights—and Alaskan women deserve better. We all deserve better.”
Sexual assault runs rampant in many indigenous communities, including those in Alaska. According to the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey, 50 percent of Alaskan women have been victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or both. According to Department of Justice statistics, 97 percent of Native and Native Alaskan women who experience sexual violence do so at the hands of non-Native perpetrators, a statistic made worse by the fact that tribal justice systems are not allowed to prosecute non-Natives for sexual assault.
One survivor speaking at the press conference sympathized with the time it took Christine Blasey Ford to come forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh. “Being raised in the Alaskan Native community in my age group, I’m in my seventies, we were taught not to tell about sexual assault,” said Adeline Raboth of Fairbanks, Alaska. “Most of the time we would be blamed for being provocative in some way. So I can understand why someone would wait years to bring up a sexual assault.”
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The group also gathered earlier in the day outside Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-AK) office to protest his support of Kavanaugh, which he announced in July. Those who spoke at the press conference were set to meet with Murkowski later in the afternoon on Tuesday.
Murkowski suggested to reporters Tuesday morning that the FBI should investigate the claims of Ford and Deborah Ramirez, whose own allegations were detailed Sunday evening by the New Yorker. An investigation “would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?” she said.
While Alaskans implored Murkowski to listen to survivors, advocates for Alaska’s Native communities have already vocally opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination on the basis of his judicial record. “The questions and colloquies that came out of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary hearings last week have necessitated us taking a position,” said the Alaskan Federation of Natives (AFN), Alaska’s oldest and largest Native organization, in a mid-September statement. “AFN joins our colleagues and friends across Indian country in strongly opposing Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court because of, among other things, his views on the rights of Native peoples.”
Earlier this month, the Alaska House Bush Caucus, a group of state legislators working on Native Alaskan issues, in a letter also implored Murkowski and Sullivan to reject the nomination, citing several of Kavanaugh’s legal interpretations of laws important to Native communities.
Murkowski told E&E News, a publication that covers energy and environmental issues, that she discussed Native legal issues during her meeting with Kavanaugh on August 23rd. “He was the first to admit that in terms of broader Indian law he hasn’t had that much opportunity in the D.C. Circuit court to really engage on these issues, so this is not a body of law that he is often exposed to,” she said. “And he was very direct with that.”
The only time senators questioned Kavanaugh’s record on Native issues during the initial round of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings came when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) grilled Kavanaugh over a 1999 Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he argued that Native Hawaiians shouldn’t be considered indigenous because they traveled from distant Polynesian islands. Hirono labeled Kavanaugh’s argument “factually wrong.” Native advocacy groups have shown alarm that Kavanaugh appears to regard indigenous Americans as a race and not as separate tribes with their own governments.
Political pressure on Murkowski and fellow swing vote GOP Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to vote “no” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation is mounting as more allegations pile up against the nominee. Hundreds of protesters lined the hallway outside Collins’ office on Monday following the new allegations. Collins remained coy with regard to her vote in an interview with Showtime’s The Circus Sunday. “I am [undecided]. How could I decide before hearing the testimony of Professor Ford?”