This story was updated Monday afternoon.
The second woman to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct knows what women risk by coming forward.
Debbie Ramirez of Boulder, who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh shoved his penis in her face when they were both students at Yale in the early 1980s — an incident she described as traumatic and humiliating — worked for several years at the Boulder nonprofit now known as Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, which works to end domestic violence and assist victims.
Ramirez started as a volunteer and was hired as the center’s victim advocate coordinator. Her former supervisor, Lisa Calderon, describes her as “very smart, very diligent with details,” “very soft-spoken, very humble,” “thoughtful,” and “a great listener.”
“She was a very private person, and so, you know, there’s nothing in the years I worked with her that would indicate anything but honesty and integrity,” says Calderon, who worked as Safehouse’s legal and social policy director from 1995 to 2007. She says she hasn’t been in touch with Ramirez for about a decade.
Ramirez has worked for Boulder County’s Housing and Human Services department since early 2013, according to county spokesman Jim Williams. She is a volunteer coordinator whose work focuses on getting support services to families and children, Williams told The Independent.
Calderon says Ramirez’s role at Safehouse included visiting victims in the hospital, documenting their injuries, connecting them with counseling and legal services, finding them shelter, and accompanying them to court. She also trained volunteers on how to provide support services with sensitivity for women experiencing trauma.
“I’m heartbroken because I know what they are going to do to her,” says Calderon, who is now a full-time instructor in the Anthropology, Sociology and Criminal Justice at Denver’s Regis University. “I know what’s in store for her. I know what’s in store for women. After working with victims for 20 years first in my role as legal director for victims, women (often) don’t come forward because they’re afraid.”
Calderon says she fears what she calls a “spectacle” around her former colleague for coming forward that will reinforce what she calls a dynamic “that we-will-chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out if you do come forward against powerful men.”
Angela Hardin of Denver is a close friend of Ramirez, whom she met 15 years ago while both were working at Safehouse. She spoke with The Independent Monday to “help explain who Debbie is,” she said, noting that she had Ramirez’s permission to do so.
“I know my friend can use all the support she can get. I’m gonna be right there,” she said of a woman she describes as “ourdoorsy,” “married with pets,” “committed to social justice,” a “genuine, kind and very sincere person.”
Hardin said Ramirez had not shared the story of her experience with Kavanaugh and that she learned of it through social media Sunday. Ramirez told her on the phone that evening that coming forward about her story was a difficult decision, “but one she feels confident about.” She also noted that Ramirez is following advice to take precautions about her safety.
Kavanaugh has denied Ramirez’s account, calling it a “smear, plain and simple.” The White House issued a statement decrying the allegation as a “coordinated smear campaign by Democrats.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Bennet said Sunday evening that Senate judiciary staff contacted Bennet’s office last Tuesday and relayed Ramirez’s story, then asked if Bennet’s staff could recommend an attorney to handle the case. They recommended Stan Garnett of the Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, who in January stepped down after 10 years as the Boulder County district attorney.
Garnett, who could not be reached for comment Sunday night, was praised widely for that office’s handling of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. His staff was particularly effective in prosecuting people who sexually abused children.
Late Sunday, Lara Day, a spokeswoman for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, told The Independent that Ramirez is in fact being represented by John Clune of Hutchison Black and Cook. But Clune, responding to an inquiry from The Independent, texted: “Mr Garnett and I both represent her. No other comment for tonight. Thanks.”
Clune, who is based in Boulder, is one of the country’s most high-profile attorneys representing sexual assault victims.
Clune and that firm handled a sexual assault case that led to the firing and resignation of top administrators at the University of Colorado in the early 2000s, and more recently represented a woman who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by football star Jameis Winston.
The New Yorker story, which exploded on social media after it was published Sunday evening, said that Ramirez, now 53, recounted having been invited to a dorm-room party where she said she started playing a drinking game with a small group of students. According to the magazine:
At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction. Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words, as that male student and another stood nearby. (Ramirez identified the two male onlookers, but, at her request, The New Yorker is not naming them.)
A third male student then exposed himself to her. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she said. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” She recalled remarking, “That’s not a real penis,” and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to “kiss it.” She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic, in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married,” she said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.”
Ramirez went on to say that she “remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. ‘Brett was laughing,’ she said. ‘I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.’”
Pulitzer-winning reporter Ronan Farrow and investigative reporter Jane Mayer reported in the piece that the magazine “has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party.” Several dozen classmates of Ramirez and Kavanaugh were contacted regarding the incident, but the magazine reported: “Many did not respond to interview requests; others declined to comment, or said they did not attend or remember the party.”
Other classmates vouched for Ramirez, who, the story said, was reluctant to speak publicly, in part because she was drinking that night, but that “after six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney” she felt confident her recollections were accurate.
The magazine reported that she is now calling for an FBI investigation.
Colorado Independent columnist Mike Littwin contributed to this report.