For Survivors, The Ford-Kavanaugh Hearing Was Deeply Personal

I'm a survivor of sexual assault. This entire process has been a roller coaster of emotion.
Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington. Her attorney’s Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich watch. (Win McNamee/Pool Image via AP)

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington. Her attorney’s Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich watch. (Win McNamee/Pool Image via AP)

If you’re a survivor stumbling through this week feeling like a shell-shocked soldier, you’re not alone. The political drama surrounding the accusations from Dr. Blasey Ford and the subsequent Kavanaugh hearing has forced us all to relive moments in our lives we’ve tried very hard to forget. Many survivors of sexual assault who had carefully crafted successful lives found ourselves with the demons of memory nipping at our heels this week, threatening to overwhelm our equilibrium and force us out of silence. For many survivors like me, this was a gut-wrenching and personally traumatic point in history. For our country, it has been a moment of reckoning that is long overdue.

Our journey to this precipice didn’t happen when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations surfaced earlier this month. It’s been happening for years. While the parallels to Anita Hill’s experience during the confirmation proceedings of Clarence Thomas are undeniable, the rage from women lies much closer to the Oval Office.

When Donald Trump was elected, the sense of betrayal cut deep for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Our fellow Americans had elevated someone who we saw as a sexual predator, a man who threatened and showed violent tendencies, and given him power over our lives. After the first few days of grief, many women moved into a space of righteous indignation and rage. How dare they drag us back to the dark ages, where we were at the mercy of powerful men who saw us as objects to be possessed instead of human beings and fellow citizens with unalienable rights.

And it wasn’t just Donald Trump. It was his whole host of horrible ghouls and goblins the GOP had brought along for the ride. Despicable men who had spent most of their lives abusing positions of power and privilege. Rob Porter, David Sorensen, Roy Moore, Trent Franks, Blake Farenthold, Alex Kozinski, Eric Greitens. The cancerous spread of misogyny seemed malignant and profound. As the #MeToo movement swept up predators in its path, the GOP insisted on propping up more, defending them and reshaping them into martyrs. Every time we cut one down, it felt like another sprung up in its wake, like some sort of perverse hydra of monstrosity.

And then along came Brett Kavanaugh, with his smug face and ivy league degree. At first, our objections were rumblings. He had demonstrated obvious bias against Roe v. Wade and women were concerned that this stolen Supreme Court seat would skew the law of the land against us, threatening our bodily autonomy. But what started as a chasm of fear for our future became an overwhelming sense of terror as the accusations against Kavanaugh began to unfold one by one.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford opened the door to her memories and in rushed our worst fears. That no matter what we did or how hard we worked, we would never outrun those experiences. That we would always be held down, subjected to the whim of the powerful men in this country who could take what they wanted and force our silence.

Stories began to pour out of the dark spaces of social media. Inspired by Dr. Blasey Ford, we vowed when she walked into that hearing room, she would not stand alone. And so we raised our voices again. Some survivors for the first time told partners and parents, colleagues and children. We shared moments of vulnerability and things that had humiliated us. We exposed our shame if only to save someone else from the same fate. For the first time, there was hope that if Dr. Blasey Ford could be believed, maybe we could all step out from under this burden of silence that we’d been carrying for decades.

All over America, we reached for each other’s hands and held tight Thursday. Having the hearing in and of itself was a victory for survivors. Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony was specific and compelling and credible. At first, I was concerned when I saw man after man take up the torch for Democrats, worried that they should have ceded their time to let the women on the committee have a stronger voice. But as the hearing continued, I realized something important was happening. With each man that looked Dr. Ford in the eye and expressed appreciation for her courage, with each affirmation of support and belief, survivors sobbed. I began to realize this was the catharsis we have been looking for.  Because if they could believe Dr. Blasey Ford, maybe we too could be believed.

By the afternoon, most of the crashing emotion of that certainty had been swept away by the rising tide of anger pulsing from the Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings. As I watched Brett Kavanaugh spit and shout, oscillating between raging and crying, I saw my own abuser begging me not to tell through tears. I heard his drunken, slurred voice right in my ear, his laughter as he exposed me and took what he wanted. And I watched in stunned, terrified silence as the Republicans on the committee shouted and raged and defended this man.

They took a candidate who multiple friends and acquaintances had described as an aggressive, belligerent drunk prone to sexually abusing women and turned him into a poster child for victimization. We watched in horror as a party comprised primarily of rich, white men with all the power and privilege in the world told us they were the real victims. And their enablers smiled and nodded and agreed.

I’ll confess, I hid under the covers for longer than usual this morning. Afraid to face what the day would bring. But it’s what we survivors do, right? We get up, and we face another fight. Exhaustion is not an option. We’ve learned we can cry and fight at the same time, and so we do. We hold onto each other as anchors in this storm of toxicity, and we put one foot in front of the other. No matter how bleak it looks out there.

When Jeff Flake, one of the undecided GOP members of the Senate Judiciary who had the power to force an investigation, released a statement saying he would confirm Kavanaugh, I folded in on myself with the pain of being betrayed again. Didn’t he understand this wasn’t just about Kavanaugh? He was Mark Judge in that room and we were being held down, silenced by the GOP’s hands over our mouths, begging him silently with our eyes to please for god’s sake help. Do something. Anything.

And then a remarkable thing happened.

These brave, ballsy survivors cornered Jeff Flake in an elevator. And I think they made him see their pain. They refused to let him look away and turn up the music. I’ll always believe it’s moments like these when we can see each other’s humanity, that we are at our best selves. And whatever Flake saw in that elevator rattled him. Those survivors reminded him that in this situation, he held all the power. Senator Flake could use it to continue the abusive cycle of silence, or he could stand up and make this one gesture, however small, for survivors.

Watching the drama in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this afternoon gave me hope for humanity, however tenuous. Because we survivors have always had to be the strong ones. We’ve outlived our fear and refused to bear the burden of shame. Many of us like Dr. Blasey Ford spend our lives working to help other survivors find justice and peace. But too often, we struggle alone, shamed and ostracized by people we should be able to trust. Our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, our representatives.

For too long they have not defended us. And it’s their silence, their averted eyes, that lets men like Kavanaugh slide silently out of the room where he assaulted a woman and into a seat on the Supreme Court. It’s not the predators and perpetrators that continue this cycle of abuse and assault. It’s the people we love and respect who refuse to see them for what they are, who don’t believe us. It’s the people in power who continue to communicate that our stories don’t matter.

I don’t know what this FBI investigation will bring to light. Given the highly partisan, political games in Washington right now we’d be foolish to hope for justice. But I can’t help it. I do more than hope for a better world for my daughter with every breath I take. I work for it. Relentlessly. And I always will. We are the ones who survived. We are the heroes we’ve been waiting for. They will not silence us. And if they confirm Brett Kavanaugh, we will find a way to remove him from that seat, even if we have to dismantle the court brick by brick. Survivors will no longer live in a world of silence if only so you can be forced to see our pain and not look away.

Don’t look away. We matter.

Opinion // Brett Kavanaugh / Donald Trump / News