Politics

Christine Blasey Ford Shows the Power of Letting Survivors of Sexual Violence Tell Their Own Stories

Christine Blasey Ford looks at her hands, sitting in the hearing room.
Christine Blasey Ford testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on her alleged sexual assault at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Jim Bourg/AFP/Getty Images

Christine Blasey Ford released the text of her opening statement on Wednesday, the day before her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In it, she describes the night she says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her with the assistance of his close friend Mark Judge. She also tells of the lasting trauma she’s suffered in the decades since. The account is straightforward, detailed, and devastating to read.

Watching Ford deliver the statement in front of the committee on Thursday morning was a different experience altogether. From the moment she began her testimony with a good-humored quip about needing caffeine, Ford was a picture of earnest resolve in the face of intimidation and fear. Her voice quivering but calm, she fought back tears as she delivered the allegations that have stalled Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“I believed [Kavanaugh] was going to rape me,” Ford said of the assault. “I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”

Ford recalled that after she escaped the bedroom where her alleged assault occurred and locked herself in a bathroom, she heard Judge and Kavanaugh “leave the bedroom laughing and loudly walk down the narrow stairs.” When they didn’t come back up, she said, she ran down the stairs and out of the house. That detail is chilling: In Ford’s telling, Kavanaugh and Judge didn’t even behave as if they thought what they did was wrong, or that it mattered, or that she might tell on them, or that they might incur consequences for their deeds.

The lingering anguish Ford fought through to read her statement was instantly recognizable to anyone who’s been forced to relive and recount an experience of unspeakable terror, as so many women have done on the internet and among friends in the year since #MeToo began. The power of her statement and presence is a testament to the value of letting survivors of sexual violence tell their own stories. Over the past two weeks, Kavanaugh supporters have both implied and stated flat-out that they believe Ford is lying or misremembering the assault she says she survived in the summer of 1982. After witnessing Ford’s sincerity and deep-seated pain, it will be a lot harder for them to plausibly claim that she’s untrustworthy, rather than simply arguing, as many have already done, that what Kavanaugh allegedly did is no big deal.

The character of Judge loomed large in Ford’s testimony, casting further shame on the GOP majority’s refusal to subpoena the man whose name appears alongside Kavanaugh’s in multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, including Julie Swetnick’s claim that Kavanaugh and Judge were present during gang rapes. Ford’s statement makes Judge out to be nearly as culpable as Judge in her victimization. “Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack,” Ford said. “They seemed to be having a very good time. Mark seemed ambivalent, at times urging Brett on, and at times telling him to stop. A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.” Later in the hearing, Ford said the two boys’ “uproarious laughter … at my expense” was the most “indelible” memory she had of her assault.

Ford’s decision to call Kavanaugh “Brett” instead of “Judge Kavanaugh” made them all sound like the people they were in the summer of 1982—high schoolers embedded in the toxic bro party culture of D.C.’s wealthy suburbs—instead of the people they are now, a professor who says the residual trauma from her assault prompted her to install a second front door on her home and a man a couple of key votes away from a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The statement was a time capsule dug up from her past and painstakingly examined for the purposes of performing credibility for people who’ve already decided they’d rather side with Kavanaugh.

After coming forward with her allegation, Ford said in her statement, “my greatest fears have been realized, and the reality has been far worse than what I expected. … Apart from the assault itself, these last couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life.” Listen to what she’s saying here: The public scrutiny and character smears her bravery has provoked have been nearly as difficult to endure as the actual sexual assault. And that’s all before she had to recite the most intimate details of a memory saturated with terror in front of a roomful of strangers who have treated her with open hostility, groused about her in public documents, and implied that her testimony has no bearing on Kavanaugh’s worthiness as a potential Supreme Court justice. Ford said in her statement that she felt it was her “civic duty” to report her assault at the hands of Kavanaugh, which she did, to her congressional representative, while he was still on Trump’s shortlist of possible nominees. It wasn’t just courage or a desire for justice that powered Ford’s shattering statement on Thursday. It was patriotism.