Christine Blasey Ford said she was 15-years-old when an older boy sexually assaulted her. She thought she was going to die at that high school party, pinned to an unfamiliar bed with a strong hand pressing down on her mouth to prevent her from screaming.
The one thing she said she remembered most clearly was how her alleged assailant and his friend, who was also present in the room, laughed at her.
Over 30 years later, Ford said that laughter is still the strongest memory of the attack.
The Palo Alto University professor, who accused President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, recently appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for one of the most momentous and consequential testimonies in years.
“You have never forgotten that laughter, forgotten them laughing at you?” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Ford.
“They were laughing with each other,” she replied.
“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy continued.
“I was underneath one of them while the two laughed,” Ford said. “Two friends having a really good time with one another.”
The one thing Christine Ford said she will never forget: Two men "uproariously laughing" together at her expense. pic.twitter.com/0AcAXNpktI— Tasneem N (@TasneemN) September 27, 2018
Her words weren’t just brave and powerful, they were alarmingly relatable for most victims of sexual abuse.
Ford was the picture of civility when she recalled her alleged traumatic encounter with Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge. Although she often appeared on the verge of tears and her voice cracked several times, the California professor managed to power through the hearing that appeared to have been particularly designed to cast doubt on her credibility.
An all-male panel of conservative senators and an outside female prosecutor left no stone unturned in their efforts to discredit the alleged victim by relentlessly grilling her for being assaulted. It was a disturbing reminder of why most survivors of sexual abuse are reluctant to come forward and share their side of the story.
It was a perfect example of how hard it was women to raise their voice against their alleged assailants.
However, despite the blatant victim blaming and the trial-like interrogation, Ford refused to be picked apart and powered through the hearing.
“I believe it is my civic duty”
“I am here today not because I want to be,” Ford told the senators in her opening statement. “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
She also went on describe the alleged assault she had previously disclosed to the Washington Post. She was at a party when Kavanaugh and Judge – who have both denied the accusations – pushed her into a room. She said the SCOTUS nominee got on top of her, attempted to take off her clothes, groped her and then tried to stifle her screams by pressing his hand on her mouth so hard she thought he would inadvertently kill her.
She said she was only able to escape after Kavanaugh’s friend jumped on the two of them on the bed, providing Ford an opportunity to get off the bed and lock herself in the bathroom. She eventually managed to flee, but the encounter traumatized her for life. She even described it as a “rape attempt” to her psychiatrist.
“I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone”
“Brett’s assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. I did not want to tell my parents that I, at age 15, was in a house without any parents present, drinking beer with boys,” Ford continued. “I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”
She said she kept it all a secret until 2012, when she finally told her husband.
“I had never told the details to anyone until May 2012, during a couples counseling session. The reason this came up in counseling is that my husband and I had completed an extensive remodel of our home, and I insisted on a second front door, an idea that he and others disagreed with and could not understand,” the professor explained. “In explaining why I wanted to have a second front door, I described the assault in detail.”
“You are not on trial”
Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who was hired as the “female assistant” by the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Ford like she was on trial – and most of the times, her line of questioning didn’t even appear relevant to the matter at hand.
For instance, the Republicans put up a map of Ford’s family home in D.C., the country club where she claimed she had gone swimming the day of the alleged attack and the house where the incident apparently took place.
“We calculated the distance from the closest point to your house from a mile radius of the country club and then the farthest point, you could see it is 6.2 and 8.2 miles,” Mitchell told Ford. “And you’ve described this as being near the country club, wherever this house was, is that right?”
“I would describe it as somewhere between my house and the country club in that vicinity that is shown in your picture,” Ford said.
She said the “country club was about a 20-minute drive from her parents’ home.
“A 20-minute drive. And of course I’ve marked as the crow flies,” Mitchell responded. “Would it be fair to say that somebody drove you somewhere, either to the party, or home from the party?”
When Ford replied with an affirmation, Mitchell asked if anyone has since reminded her that they were the one to driver her home that day.
“No,” Ford responded.
Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell seems to be challenging Dr. Ford’s contention that she developed a fear of flying by pointing to a series of plane flights for work and vacation. pic.twitter.com/2CtPVvUNCk— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) September 27, 2018
Similarly, the alleged victim’s fear of flying was also brought into question, which Mitchell implying since Ford traveled on airplanes for work and holidays despite saying she was afraid of them, she must not be a reliable victim.
“When you were here back in August, end of July, August, how did you get here?” Mitchell asked Ford, to which she replied, “Also by airplane. I come here once a year during the summer to visit my family.”
“In fact, you fly fairly frequently for your hobbies and you have had to fly for your work,” Mitchell continued. “Is that true?”
“Correct, unfortunately,” Ford said.
“I also saw you talked about Hawaii, Polynesian islands. Have you been to all of those places?” Mitchell said.
“Correct,” Ford repeated.
Fortunately, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris was quick to remind Ford she wasn’t on trial.
“Dr. Ford, first of all, just so we can level set, you know you are not on trial. You are not on trial,” the senator began. “I was struck in your testimony by what you indicated as your intention when you first let anyone associated with these hearings know about it. And what you basically said is you reached out to your Representative in the United States Congress hoping that person would inform the white house before Judge Kavanaugh had been named. That’s extremely persuasive about your motivation for coming forward.”
Sen. Feinstein: "What you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity."— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 27, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford: "Absolutely not." pic.twitter.com/gynZNBvoRN
During the hearing, Ford has to reassure the senators time and again that it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.
“How are you so sure that it was he?” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee, asked her.
“The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now. Just basic memory functions,” she explained, adding various neurotransmitters “code memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”
“So what you are telling us, this could not be a case of mistaken identity?” Feinstein repeated.
“Absolutely not,” Ford responded
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) followed a similar line of questioning.
“I am asking you to address this new defense of mistaken identity directly. Dr. Ford, with what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?” he asked.
"100 percent," she replied.
The has consequences of “boys will be boys” behavior
"I can only speak for how it has impacted me greatly for the last 36 years."— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) September 27, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford responds to suggestions that her alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh was a case of "boys will be boys." pic.twitter.com/A7QHNW1S4f
While Republicans grilled Ford, the Democrats not only praised her for her courage but also used the opportunity to talk about the reaction to her allegations.
One such example was Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).
“I've been really troubled by the excuse offered by too many that this was a high school incident and boys will be boys,” he told the psychology professor. “To me, that’s just far too low a standard for the conduct of men and boys in our country.”
Although she suggested this “boys will be boys” mentality has disastrous consequences, she said, “I can only speak for how it has impacted me greatly for the last 36 years.”
“You chose to come forward with very serious and relevant information about a nominee for a lifetime position on our Supreme Court,” Coons added. “You didn’t have to, and I know you’ve done it at great personal cost. This is a public service and I want you to know I’m grateful for the opportunity to hear from you directly today.”
“I believe you”
While Ford’s testimony was riveting and powerful throughout, it was the words of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that appeared to move the doctor.
“Thank you for being here today and just tell you I have found your testimony powerful, incredible, and I believe you. You’re a teacher, correct? Well, you have given America an amazing teaching moment, and you may have other moments in the classroom, but you have inspired and you have enlightened America,” he told her.
The Democrat then went on to praise her for inspiring other survivors to also come forward.
“If we agree on nothing else today, I hope on a bipartisan basis we can agree on how much courage it has taken for you to come forward, and I think you have earned America's gratitude."
Clearly affected by his statement, Ford mouthed the words "Thank you" in response.
Banner / Thumbnail : Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS