Christine Blasey Ford. Over the past few days, you've likely heard her name on the news and across social media platforms. You might know that she's a 51-year-old research psychologist and professor in California, and you've almost certainly heard her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school. He has categorically denied her allegations, which you also may have heard.
If you're paying attention, you'll realize a familiar narrative emerged this week, one that tends to create an invisible line between those who believe Blasey Ford's claims and those who attribute her coming forward as a partisan way to derail the confirmation of Donald Trump's second SCOTUS nominee. Immediately following Ford's decision to go public, however reluctant, doubts were raised about the veracity of the story and the motives behind it. Excuses were made about Kavanaugh's behavior—even if he did it, he was just 17. Boys will be boys, they said. I know how honest he is, one Sen. Orrin Hatch said in defense.
In the week that the public has come to know her name, and the disturbing claims of sexual assault she unearthed, never once was Blasey Ford afforded the same benefit of the doubt. Not even now, in the age of #MeToo. In fact, a good amount of commentary about the woman who says Kavanaugh drunkenly groped her in 1982 (and placed his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream) is negative. Violent and threatening, even. This rhetoric isn't exclusive to those on the right who hope to seat another conservative justice. A quick look at Twitter reveals that many civilians are having a difficult time recognizing the credibility of her claim—yet somehow buy into Kavanaugh’s version of the story with ease. Essentially, the situation is a boiled-down version of what it means to be a woman: the burden lies on you to prove your worth and your truth.
In this way, Ford is being re-victimized in reliving her trauma. But something else is happening as well, something insidious and dangerous. According to reports, Ford says she's been forced from her home and is receiving death threats. In a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, her lawyers wrote: "In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has received a stunning amount of support from her community and from fellow citizens across our country. At the same time, however, her worst fears have materialized. She has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats. As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online."
On Friday morning, the President of the United States doubled down on his support of Kavanaugh by attempting to discredit Ford even further, questioning why she didn’t report the incident when it occurred. “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Donald Trump tweeted. “I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”
The irony? While Ford is the one actually under the attack of credible death threats and violent vitriol, Kavanaugh is the person with all the protections of the government. If that's not infuriating enough, you're not paying attention.
But if there's one thing that we can take from the threats against Ford, it's a reminder that women don't come forward for fame. No one asks for death threats. And every woman knows what's at stake when they make the decision to speak out. Sometimes, it's a sacrifice and a total upending of life as they knew it. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and the way Ford’s situation is playing out, it’s not hard to deduce why.
To further the point, survivors are now courageously sharing their #WhyIDidntReport stories on social media.
Here are some other ways in which the treatment of Ford reinforces why women choose to remain silent with their pain.
Kavanaugh supporters claim Ford must be in it for the attention.
Frankly, this sort of nonsense is what should make you want to scream the loudest. The woman has been forced out of her own home and is living in fear for herself and her family. By her own lawyers words, she had no desire to become a public figure. "Dr. Ford sought to tell her story, in confidence, so that lawmakers would have a fuller understanding of Brett Kavanaugh’s character and history," their letter to Grassley reads. "Only after the details of her experience were leaked did Dr. Ford make the reluctant decision to come forward publicly."
I can think of exactly zero people in my life who would ask for that kind of attention, and yet it's usually the first response by detractors when a woman comes forward about a powerful or famous man's alleged bad behavior.
Ford is being treated dismissively by many of the leaders of our government.
Here's one example: By refusing to call her by name, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is dismissing the courage it took for Ford to come forward, and essentially erasing her experience.
“They’ve had tons of time to do this. This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh," Graham said. "I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”
The lady. As Anita Hill said in her New York Times op-ed, "Finally, refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name. She was once anonymous, but no longer is. Dr. Blasey is not simply 'Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser.' Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole person."
Isn't that the least these men could do?
Ford is being re-victimized.
Ford's request that the FBI conduct a thorough investigation of her allegations is being twisted as some sort of stalling tactic or evidence that she isn't telling the truth by her detractors. That, to me, is completely irrational. She is literally asking that professionals dig deeper into her story, not running from it. And she is hoping that the relevant information would be provided to the committee before she sits down to answer their inquiries under oath.
"While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident," her lawyers' letter to Grassley notes. "The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is 'mistaken' and 'mixed up.' While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials."
Every time Ford's character and motives are called into question, she is victimized again. It's no wonder that Psychology Today cites "fear of consequences" as a reason that women don't report sexual harassment and assault.
I know I'm not alone in expressing how thankful I am that Ford was brave enough to come forward, but also so desperately sorry that this predictable outcome is the reality she now faces. I am fearful about the repercussions of this situation and the way it has been handled for women all across the country. Ford’s situation is a classic case of the kind of victim-shaming that is so common in these moments. Hers is playing out on the national news, but it could just as easily be happening in your own community, no matter how big or small.
I am incredibly terrified about what it means to have (another) alleged sexual abuser or harasser on the highest court in the land, deciding on cases that affect our bodies. But I am also scared of the message this sends to young women about what happens when you bravely tell your story, whether it's about a powerful public figure or a guy in your high school.
We've seen a transformational year since last October, when Tarana Burke's #MeToo campaign went viral in the wake of Harvey Weinstein allegations. Women were supported. Women were believed. But to see a case of this magnitude be ignored and discredited by those deciding who gets to sit on the Supreme Court, well, that's just a reminder that there is no progress without some backlash. We must continue to fight.