‘These are the stories of our lives’: Prep school alumni hear echoes in assault claim

“We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983. For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect,” read the letter, from women who attended schools including Visitation, Stone Ridge and Holton-Arms.

This story is based on interviews with two dozen former students, many of whom asked not to be identified because of how tightly knit and powerful the alumni from those schools are, and because they fear retribution or harassment for speaking out on the allegations engulfing Kavanaugh’s nomination.

They described parties with kegs of beer and bottles of liquor, grain punch, heavy drinking and drug use that took place almost every weekend and even on weeknights in private homes, parks, open fields and golf courses in Maryland and Washington. Until 1986, the drinking age in Washington was 18, and alcohol was easily accessible. Drugs, especially cocaine and quaaludes, were plentiful.

Women who attended those parties remember sexually aggressive behavior by some of the male students that often bordered on assault and was routinely fueled by excessive drinking.

“Most of the guys at these schools were really decent, nice guys, but there was a small minority that was popular and was out of control,” said a woman who attended Georgetown Visitation in the early 1980s and asked not to be identified. “I never got dragged into a bedroom, but that . . . happened to girls all the time.

Another woman who did not want to be identified said what she witnessed and what happened to her friends left her scarred three decades later.

.. “It was just a horrible culture,” she said. “I never married, I don’t have kids, and I trace it all back to those parties.”

All of the women interviewed for this story took pains to point out that not all of the students at the all-boys schools took part in this culture. But the problem was widespread and toxic, they said.

“There were lots of teenage boys I knew at Prep and Gonzaga who were not sexually assaulting girls, but they were in an environment where that was seen as acceptable,”

..  “The story that Dr. Ford told, that doesn’t surprise me at all.”

.. A 1980 Visitation graduate recalls politely asking a Georgetown Prep football player and his friends to leave a party that had ended at her friend’s house. The boys didn’t want to go and said so, asking the woman how she was going to make them leave. One took a step in her direction. She cracked the Heineken bottle from which she had been drinking against the wall and pointed the jagged edge at him. The boy walked away, muttering obscenities. They weren’t friends before, and certainly not after. The woman watched as the man steadily became a pillar of society. She doubts he remembers.

.. “The boys were really unable to regard young women as intellectual, social equals, and it was really infuriating to me. It’s so jarring to feel like you’re a competent, confident person, and then boys can’t treat you like a human.”

Several Georgetown Prep graduates interviewed for this story who attended during the 1980s say they have fond memories of the school and the lifetime friendships they forged there. But they also corroborate the impression that alcohol was an integral part of the school’s identity at the time and that heavy drinking and disregard or mistreatment of women were widely accepted.

Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford moved 3,000 miles to reinvent her life. It wasn’t far enough.

Ford had already moved 3,000 miles away from the affluent Maryland suburbs where she says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a house party — a charge he would emphatically deny. Suddenly, living in California didn’t seem far enough. Maybe another hemisphere would be. She went online to research other democracies where her family might settle, including New Zealand.

“She was like, ‘I can’t deal with this. If he becomes the nominee, then I’m moving to another country. I cannot live in this country if he’s in the Supreme Court,’ ” her husband said. “She wanted out.”

.. On the day that Ford publicly identified herself as Kavanaugh’s accuser in an interview with The Washington Post, her husband was driving their 15-year-old son and his friends from a soccer tournament in Lake Tahoe. He couldn’t answer the calls that were blowing up his phone; by the time they reached home, a crowd of reporters was waiting.

.. Russell struggled to explain it to his children. “I said that Mommy had a story about a Supreme Court nominee, and now it’s broken into the news, and we can’t stay in the house anymore,” he recalled. The family was separated for days, with the boys staying with friends and their parents living at a hotel. They’ve looked into a security service to escort their children to school.

.. Quietly, she garnered a reputation for her research on depression, anxiety and resilience after trauma — telling almost no one what she herself had endured.

.. Ford’s inner circle was, “How do you say this? The pretty, popular girls,” explained Andrea Evers, a close friend. “It wasn’t like we were a bunch of vapid preppies, but God, we were preppy then.”

.. the drinking age was 18 then

.. frequently left the girls feeling embattled.

“The boys were pretty brutal,” Evers said. “They would do what they could to get you drunk, and do whatever they would try to do to you.”

.. Kavanaugh and his classmate Mark Judge had started drinking earlier than others, she said, and the two were “stumbling drunk” when they pushed her into a bedroom.

.. Her biggest fear afterward, she recalled 37 years later, was looking as if she had just been attacked. So she carried herself as if she wasn’t. Down the stairs. Out the door. Onto the rest of her high school years, she said. On graduation day, she wore the required white dress and carried red roses. She told no one.

.. Years later, Ford would describe college as a time when she “derailed,” struggling with symptoms of trauma she did not yet understand.

.. She’d been a cheerleader in high school and joined a sorority, but the lifestyle was too much like the place from which she’d come. Despite the talent for math she had shown in high school, one college classmate recalled Ford failing a statistics class.

.. “He said, ‘You’re really smart, and you’re just like totally [messed] up,’ ” Ford recalled. She remembers him saying, “ ‘What are you doing? . . . Everybody’s getting it together but you’re like not.’ It was kind of a harsh talk.”

If she was going to graduate on time, he said, she ought to major in psychology. The major didn’t require students to take classes in a specific order, so Ford could take them all at once.

That was how Christine Blasey Ford came to spend her life researching trauma and if it is possible to get past it.

.. “I think she had really reinvented herself,” said Jeff Harris, her supervisor at the University of Hawaii counseling center. “A surfer from California is a different image than a prep-school girl from Bethesda.”

.. He knew that more than a love of water had brought her west.

“She didn’t always get along with her parents because of differing political views,” Russell said. “It was a very male-dominated environment. Everyone was interested in what’s going on with the men, and the women are sidelined, and she didn’t get the attention or respect she felt she deserved. That’s why she was in California, to get away from the D.C. scene.”

.. As their relationship deepened, Ford told him she’d been physically abused years earlier. He would learn the specifics of the event, including Kavanaugh’s name, during a couple’s therapy session years later. But then, he just listened.

.. Her master’s thesis explored the relationship between trauma and depression.

.. admired by colleagues for her analytical mind and inventive mathematical models.

.. She took a particular interest in resilience and post-traumatic growth — the ideas that people who endure trauma can return to normal and even wind up stronger than before. Ford said she has given speeches about this topic to students, telling them, “You can always recover.”

.. She will probably be asked to detail every moment of the alleged attack. How much she had to drink. Why she went upstairs. What she was wearing.

‘100 Kegs or Bust’: Kavanaugh friend, Mark Judge, has spent years writing about high school debauchery

describes an ’80s private-school party scene in which heavy drinking and sexual encounters were standard fare.

.. Judge wrote about the pledge he and his friends at the all-male school on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda, Md., made to drink 100 kegs of beer before graduation. On their way to that goal, there was a “disastrous” party “at my house where the place was trashed,” Judge wrote in his book “God and Man at Georgetown Prep.” Kavanaugh listed himself in the class yearbook as treasurer of the “100 Kegs or Bust” club.

.. “I’ll be the first one to defend guys being guys,” Judge wrote in a 2015 article on the website Acculturated. He described a party culture of “drinking and smoking and hooking up.” During senior year, Judge said he and his pals hired a stripper and bought a keg for a bachelor party they threw to honor their school’s music teacher.

“I drank too much and did stupid things,” he said in his memoir.

“Most of the time everyone, including the girls, was drunk,” Judge wrote in “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” a memoir of his alcoholism and recovery. “If you could breathe and walk at the same time, you could hook up with someone.

.. Judge seemed to some friends to stay fixed in the experiences of his adolescence. Over time, his politics shifted from left to right, and his writing often focused on his view of masculinity (“the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion”) and his concern that gay culture was corroding traditional values.

.. In one column for Acculturated, Judge wrote that it is “important that for some brief moments in his life — preferably when he is young — a man should be, at times, arrogant, a little reckless, and looking for kicks.”

.. Maryland state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), one of Judge’s classmates at Georgetown Preparatory School

.. ‘Bully’ may be an overused term, but he regularly belittled people he perceived as being lower on the high school hierarchy.”

.. I just had an instinct and desire to get into trouble, and science and psychotherapy are useless to explain it. I just liked causing trouble.”

.. Judge has written about his Prep years as a time of drunken debauchery. Beach Week, a summertime excursion with classmates, was a nonstop roller coaster of drinking, sexual encounters with girls from other prep schools, blackouts and more drinking. “It was impossible to stop until I was completely annihilated,”

.. on Monday mornings during senior year, the boys would tell their Marriage and Sex teacher, Bernie Ward, about their excesses.

“The drinking was unbelievable,” said Ward, who later spent two decades as a radio talk-show host in San Francisco and served six years in federal prison for distributing child pornography. “It was part of the culture. A parent even bought the keg and threw one of the parties for the kids.”

.. The faculty at Prep, he said, had morphed from “tough guys” to “hippies and leftists.”

.. “Doctors have called it attention deficit disorder, psychiatrists have cited my behavior as a cry for attention from my distant, drinking father, but at the end of the day I simply had a problem with authority,” Judge wrote in “Wasted.” His behavior when he was drinking was, he wrote, “not dignified.”

.. Judge sent a vituperative email wishing him the same fate as Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left to die in Wyoming in 1998.

.. Judge has described living for years in the basement of his parents’ home in Potomac. Public records list his home at an address in Georgetown that turns out also to be the address of a UPS store.

.. Mark’s brother Michael to write in Washingtonian magazine about how the family “did come to fear one of its members. . . . Mark is a solipsist: spoiled as a child, always gazing inward, unable to recognize any pain but his own.”

.. Judge’s views about men and women seemed grounded in midcentury notions. In his high school yearbook, he cited a Noël Coward lyric, “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

.. In 2003, a student named Eric Ruyak reported to school authorities that a Jesuit priest who was a teacher at Georgetown Prep had touched him inappropriately. Some Prep alumni, including Judge, rallied around the teacher

.. Numerous alumni told me that Judge was going around saying I was emotionally unstable and a sexual deviant,”

.. An investigation by Jesuit authorities later confirmed Ruyak’s account. Orr was placed on a leave of absence from his order. When another Prep student later alleged that Orr had sexually abused him, the priest was arrested. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2011 to five years of probation.

“For years, I couldn’t shake Judge,” Ruyak said. “He would write about the case to advance his agenda about the school being a nest of liberalism and homosexuality. This guy did unbelievable damage to me when I was a kid.”

Why Sexual Assault Memories Stick

Christine Blasey Ford says she has a vivid memory of an attack that took place when she was 15. That makes sense.

As a psychiatrist I know something about how memory works. Neuroscience research tells us that memories formed under the influence of intense emotion — such as the feelings that accompany a sexual assault — are indelible in the way that memories of a routine day are not.

That’s why it’s credible that Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, has a vivid recollection of the alleged long-ago event.

.. The reason has to do with the way memories are encoded when a person is experiencing intense emotions. When people are assaulted, for example, they experience a surge of norepinephrine, a stress hormone that is a relative of adrenaline.

.. The role of norepinephrine in the enhancement of memory was demonstrated by a 1994study in which researchers randomly gave subjects either propranolol, a drug that blocks the effect of norepinephrine, or a placebo just before they heard either an emotionally arousing story or a neutral one. Then they tested subjects’ memories of both stories a week later and found that propranolol selectively impaired recall of the emotionally arousing story but not the neutral story. The clear implication of this study is that emotion raises norepinephrine, which then strengthens memory.

That is why you can easily forget where you put your smartphone or what you had for dinner last night or last year. But you will almost never forget who raped you, whether it happened yesterday — or 36 years ago. There’s very little chance that you are, as some senators suggest Dr. Blasey is, “mixed up” or “confused.”

.. It is also important to note that what Dr. Blasey is describing in her report of sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh is not a so-called recovered memory — one that a person believes he has recalled after having suppressed it for many years. Quite the opposite: It is a traumatic memory that she’s been unable to forget.

.. Some commentators don’t dispute Dr. Blasey’s veracity. Instead, they deem an assault as described by Dr. Blasey as irrelevant to Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court because he would have been just 17 years old and drunk at the time. We all know that teenagers are notoriously impulsive and should be forgiven for doing things like that, right?

Wrong. Sexual assault cannot be easily dismissed as youthful indiscretion or the product of alcoholic intoxication. First, alcohol does not create violent sexual impulses so much as it unleashes or magnifies pre-existing ones. And second, a sexual assault in which Brett Kavanaugh put his hand over a girl’s mouth to silence her would be in a far different category from a dumb but not character-revealing prank like shoplifting cigarettes. Teenagers are notorious risk-takers because, in part, the reward circuit of the brain develops long before the prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and control. But that doesn’t mean they have no sense of right or wrong or that they are hard-wired to violate the rights of others.

.. Since teenagers change so much, these people say, bad behavior then isn’t necessarily predictive of adult behavior. Sure, but why take the risk for someone who will have so much power? Dr. Blasey’s accusation is credible and deserves a full investigation.