Politics

The GoFundMe Campaigns That Have Raised $840,000 for Christine Blasey Ford Make Me a Little Squeamish

Christine Blasey Ford.
Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyer Debra S. Katz, answers questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27 on Capitol Hill.
Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images

Now that Brett Kavanaugh is sitting on the Supreme Court, Christine Blasey Ford is no longer making daily headlines. But she’s still making money via GoFundMe, where one of two massively successful fundraising pages is still collecting donations for a no-strings-attached pot that currently contains more than $633,000.

An Oct. 3 message from Ford on the page, which was initially set up by an anonymous person or people identified as “her neighbors and colleagues,” says the funds will be used for “security, housing, transportation and other related expenses” incurred as a result of her public sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh. “I cannot express how grateful I am for the outpouring of support and generosity that we have received through this GoFundMe account,” Ford wrote in that message, adding, “I feel like all of you who have made a contribution are on this journey with me, which is very heartening.”

Ford received multiple death threats after putting her name to a confidential letter she’d sent to her congressional representative detailing an attempted rape Kavanaugh allegedly perpetrated against her in the early 1980s. The money from two Ford-affiliated GoFundMe pages (the second stopped accepting money on Sept. 20, when it had amassed nearly $210,000) was raised based on the promise that it would help defray the cost of a security detail. “The costs for security, housing, transportation and other related expenses are much higher than we anticipated and they do not show signs of letting up,” she said in the Oct. 3 message.

On Monday, the investigations arm of the right-leaning website RealClearPolitics published a piece suggesting these fundraising efforts may explain why Ford accused Kavanaugh of assault. “Democrats repeatedly asserted that Christine Blasey Ford had ‘nothing to gain’ by coming forward with her explosive accusation of attempted rape against the Supreme Court nominee,” reporter Paul Sperry writes. “In fact, Ford stands to gain some $1 million and counting from national crowdfunding campaigns launched by friends and other supporters, while she is said to be fielding book offers.” Sperry casts doubt on the idea that Ford and her husband need donations, noting that they own two homes valued at a combined $4.3 million, sold a bed-and-breakfast a decade ago for more than $1.5 million, and hold well-paying gigs in academia and biotechnology, respectively. Sperry also questions where the GoFundMe money is going, since Ford’s lawyers offered their services pro bono. He estimates that Ford could have spent only about $55,000 on security so far and claims she’s been staying with relatives and at her beach house, not in any rented safe house she’d have to shell out for.

Sperry doesn’t explain where he got the $1 million figure—the two GoFundMe sums add up to about $840,000, and a third fundraiser that’s garnered about $31,000 is earmarked for a proposed endowed professorship or scholarship that wouldn’t enrich Ford at all. And there is a large, meaningful distance between having something “to gain” from coming forward with sexual assault allegations and accepting material gestures of gratitude. I do not believe Ford lied about a sexual assault in hopes that someone would make her a GoFundMe. With that said, it does make me a little uncomfortable to watch more than 13,000 people give money to an already-wealthy woman for unspecified expenses related to a sexual assault accusation when so many other survivors are trying to get by with far greater need and far less social, institutional, and financial support.

Crowdfunding sites have made it easy for people to convert feelings of sympathy into monetary gifts. Occasionally, well-meaning attempts to help the victim of targeted mistreatment or random tragedy go viral, bringing the beneficiary a major windfall. When 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein was captured on tape getting taunted by a group of boys in 2012, a random man who saw the video started an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising $5,000 to send Klein on the “vacation of a lifetime.” It ended up yielding more than $700,000, effectively setting her up for retirement, or a year of lavish spending, or whatever else she might want to do. Klein left her job and used $100,000 of the money to set up an anti-bullying foundation that stopped posting updates in 2013. It’s hard to escape the notion that, while Klein absolutely deserved the vacation of a lifetime, the extra $695,000 could have gone to better use elsewhere—say, to existing organizations doing anti-bullying work, or to pay the medical and counseling expenses incurred by victims of hate crimes.

The same goes for the $840,000 donated to Ford. If Ford isn’t part of the 1 percent, she’s darn close, and it’s highly probable that the majority of her patrons have less money than she does. The donors to these campaigns were surely motivated by feelings of helplessness and anger. For some of her backers, Ford was an avatar of their painful memories of sexual exploitation; for others, she represented their fears of women’s fate under three Republican-controlled branches of government. They couldn’t not do something after witnessing the all-male GOP contingent on the Senate Judiciary Committee defend an accused sexual abuser instead of simply nominating an equally conservative replacement. They couldn’t give Ford a hug, a pep talk, or the power to make Kavanaugh supporters care. All they could do was give her money.

But if Ford ends up making a hefty profit once her expenses are covered, which it looks like she almost certainly will, that will be a major loss for the anti-rape organizations that could have bankrolled survivor support programs with those funds. Ford’s acceptance of the money also feeds into the time-honored canard that women lie about sex crimes to get money and fame. When Paula Jones accused then-President Bill Clinton of sexually harassing her during his tenure as governor of Arkansas, Clinton adviser James Carville quipped, “If you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” (Weirdly, Sen. Lindsey Graham invoked that line during the Kavanaugh hearings to argue that Trump’s mockery of Ford wasn’t wholly unprecedented.)

It was a lot harder to portray Ford as a low-class opportunist. In almost every way, she was the victim most likely to be believed: a white woman from a respectable, well-to-do family who attended elite private schools and traveled in the same elevated social circles as her alleged assailant. With her many degrees, prominent professional status, and position in the rarefied circles of Palo Alto, California, Ford had much to lose. Why, then, would she lie?

Sperry has one theory. “Local records show that Christine Blasey Ford recently applied for a building permit to remodel their Santa Cruz beach house. The application was made on July 16—just two weeks before she sent her letter accusing Kavanaugh of assaulting her,” he writes. “The proposed remodeling job is significant and expensive.”

It’s just as easy, though, to build a completely different theory using the exact same evidence. The fact that Ford’s personal financial decisions—her sale of a bed-and-breakfast, her decision to remodel her home—are now being picked apart only constitutes further proof that bringing a sexual assault claim subjects the accuser to intense scrutiny. Even if Ford becomes a folk hero on the left, her name will always be linked to sexual abuse and the man who allegedly assaulted her. And while Ford’s multimillion-dollar real estate assets may mean she doesn’t need $840,000 in donations to cover her security costs, they also mean she didn’t need to subject herself to national scrutiny, shame, and death threats to underwrite a home renovation.

In his piece, Sperry worries that Ford’s GoFundMe take “sets a dangerous precedent by creating a new incentive for accusers” and encouraging “partisan activists” to “offer crowdfunding as a form of bounty on political foes, or to buy witness testimony against political adversaries.” This argument is unconvincing, because the barriers to reporting sexual abuse by powerful perpetrators are far mightier than the rewards. Making a practice of crowdfunding support for accusers could mitigate some of the power differentials that keep survivors silent when they’re not “model victims” like Ford. With the promise of help paying expenses, less wealthy survivors may be more likely to confront their assailants, knowing that whatever they lose—work clients, anonymity, employability in a certain region or industry—they will have some protection against falling into poverty, at least for a little while. Crowdfunding campaigns like the ones supporting Ford could also send a message to those inclined to harass survivors that death threats won’t be enough to intimidate accusers into silence. Rich people shouldn’t be the only ones who have the option of going public with sexual assault allegations of national import.

No survivor of assault should have to pay to tell the truth, especially when that truth could protect others from harm or keep an unrepentant abuser out of a position of power. And Ford shouldn’t be financially penalized for her courage. But reparations or damages for victims are supposed to come from those who enacted or benefited from the harm done, not from sympathetic observers moved by an infuriating story.

The question of whether Ford should profit from her testimony is an incredibly thorny one. Sperry, who has spent the past month smearing Ford as a deceitful political actor with poor character, is not well-equipped to answer it. In one of several pieces he’s written about Ford, Sperry claimed she “wasn’t exactly a choir girl” in high school and was known by “a sexually derogatory nickname … suggesting she was promiscuous.” He also wrote that, according to a source, in Ford’s high school yearbooks, girls boasted of “passing out from binge drinking” and “targeting boys” at Georgetown Prep for sexual encounters.

Given what Sperry has written about Ford, I believe he would’ve found some reason to accuse her of profiteering even if the GoFundMe campaigns had never cropped up. Still, it would be a lot easier to defend Ford against Sperry’s claims if she were more transparent about where the money was going or if she publicly diverted the extra funds to some of the many organizations that support lower-income survivors. In a perfect world, all sexual assault survivors would get the money they need. In this one, those whose bravery and relative privilege elicit a disproportionate outpouring of financial support should spread their resources around.