‘They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult’. This was the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who today spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee Washington DC hearing for Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh. According to Ford, he’s the man who, when he was 17, and she just 15, attempted to rape her, and didn’t care if he suffocated her in the process. But Donald Trump says Kavanaugh’s such a great guy that he’s worth a spot on in the highest court in the land.
Since #MeToo rose up in our consciousness, and man after man (and the very rare woman) has been accused of inappropriate behaviour, sexual misconduct, rape…it’s easy to wonder: what happens to someone accused of sexual assault? Where do they go? What responsibility do they get handed? How important do they end up becoming?
For Christine Blasey Ford, Julie Swetnick and Deborah Ramirez, their alleged attacker, Kavanaugh was set to become one of the most important men in the country, until they came forward.
As a little explainer, the Supreme Court, made up of top lawyers, gets to decide vital, conclusive parts of US legislation. To get onto the Supreme Court, you have to be nominated by a sitting President, reported out by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then confirmed by the entire Senate. To leave the Supreme Court, you retire, but bear in mind plenty stay on until their 80s. Not only should bad guys be filtered away from ever getting on the Supreme Court, it’s tough to remove them once they’re confirmed. That’s why Ford came forward.
At the hearing, speaking to the 11 men of the committee, Ford, who’s had ‘constant harassments and death threats’ for coming forward, bravely delivered her testimony, explaining: ‘I am here today because I want to be. 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 went on to recall the incident, where, at a house party in 1982, with another guy, Mark Judge, along for the ride, ’Brett got on top of me..he began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me. I yelled, hoping someone downstairs might hear me, and tried to get away from him, but his weight was heavy.’
‘Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes…I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help…Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming,’ she said.
'This is 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.’
When asked what the strongest memory of the incident was, Ford replied ‘The laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.’
As for the lasting impact, Ford testified: ‘I struggled academically, I struggled in college forming new friendships, especially new friendships with boys.’
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Trump explained that his own experience of being accused by several women of sexual misconduct makes him more sympathetic towards Kavanaugh: ‘It does impact my opinion and you know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me. I’m a very famous person, unfortunately.’
He continued, ‘I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me, really false charges. I know friends that have had false charges. People want fame, they want money, they want whatever. So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting home watching television where they say oh, Judge Kavanaugh this or that.’
The false allegations Trump speaks of come from 13 women, and it’s been confirmed that the only money these women have sought is recompense for legal expenses. As for the ‘this and that’, well, two other women have alleged Kavanaugh assaulted them. Ramirez said he exposed himself to her at a dorm party and Swetnick said she was victim of a gang rape that the judge attended. Kavanaugh denies all the accusations.
Ahead of today’s hearings, Ramirez, who has not been called to testify, said: “Thinking of you today, Christine. They want us to feel alone and isolated but I’m there wrapping my arms around you and I hope you feel the people of this nation wrapping their arms around all of us. Holding you up in spirit.’
The Trumpian viewpoint comes in two parts. Firstly, he thinks that Ford is just here to make a political stand against him, and Kavanaugh who is also a Republican (and was staff secretary under George W Bush). Ford addressed this, saying: ‘I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me. I am an independent person, and I am no one’s pawn.’
The second grotesque limb of Trump’s argument is, if these women were telling the truth, they would have reported their assaults earlier, The President tweeted: '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 by either her or loving parents.' As a result, the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag has gone viral, with women from across the world, including Cara Delevingne, Alyssa Milano and Padma Lakshi contributing their stories.
Stigma, fear, mistrust in institutions, lack of financial security…so many things can stop someone reporting everything from sexual misconduct all the way through to rape. It’s hopeful that Ford’s brave, precise and calm testimony, if taken in kind seriously and sincerely, will provide a shining example for survivors to be able to come forward.
The question of Kavanaugh’s guilt remains - with his wife by his side, he did an interview with Fox News to insist the allegations can’t be true, because he ‘did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.’
Today it is judgement day, when the Senate Judiciary Committee decides if Kavanaugh is fit for them to put his confirmation to a Senate vote. There is also a historical score to be settled. In 1991, Anita Hill kicked off the first American movement against workplace harassment when her former employer, Clarence Thomas, was nominated to the Supreme Court by George W Bush. Hill came forward to allege Thomas’s sexual harassment of her, but he still made it onto the Supreme Court, where he still sits.
Trump has lined up a woman, the pro-life lawyer Amy Coney Barnett, to be his replacement nomination.
The hearing is expected to finish on Thursday evening.