US & Canada

Neomi Rao: Trump court pick 'regrets' blaming women for date rape

Neomi Rao at her confirmation hearing Image copyright Getty Images

US President Donald Trump's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on a lower court has said she regrets past comments about date rape.

Neomi Rao, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a college op-ed claiming women could avoid rape by staying sober.

In another opinion piece, Ms Rao wrote feminism was "dangerous" for teaching women that they are equal to men.

Facing scrutiny from both parties, Ms Rao said she had "matured" since then.

"To be honest, looking back at some of those writings, I cringe at some of the language I used," Ms Rao, 45, a nominee for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I certainly regret any implication of blaming the victim."

Ms Rao's 1994 op-ed in the Yale Herald shows her reasoning that if a woman "drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice".

"It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions. A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober."

An earlier, 1993 article for the Yale Free Press detailed how feminist ideals led women to "develop an artificial, alternative world in which women are free from sexual danger and 'no always means no'".

"The same rules and practices which proscribed an ostensibly subordinate position for women in society also provided greater protection from horrors such as rape," Ms Rao wrote.

Ms Rao's college rationale led many senators to question whether she was fit for a lifetime seat on the second highest US court.

Democrats grilled Ms Rao on her past views and pushed her to verbally reject those sentiments.

Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who revealed last month she had been sexually assaulted in college, also said Ms Rao's articles "give me pause".

Mrs Ernst noted she was concerned about the "message that we are sending young women everywhere".

Ms Rao insisted she was not a proponent of victim blaming and had "matured as a thinker, writer and a person" since her college years in the 1990s.

That was sufficient for Republican Senator Mike Lee, of Utah, who said "judicial nominations have become a blood sport", referencing the acrimonious debate around Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation after Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in high school.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings saw emotional testimonies from both the nominee and his accuser

The controversy saw Mr Kavanaugh confirmed as a justice by a narrow 50-48 vote.

The Utah senator added: "People grow, they learn and we should allow those changes to be taken into account."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz also defended Ms Rao, and said he plans on advising his own daughters to avoid excessive drinking.

Ms Rao is one of a record number of judges Mr Trump has nominated to positions on federal courts during his presidency.

She graduated from Yale University in 1995, going on to receive her law degree from the University of Chicago and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She was also an associate counsel to President George W Bush.

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