Oct 5th, 2018, 08:50 PM

You Will Not Silence Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

By Kathleen Sharp
Unsplash/Alexandru Acea
Kavanaugh, Ford's testimony and a continuous silencing of sexual assault victims.

(Trigger warning: this article discusses sexual assault and violence.) 

Not since Anita Hill has a single American woman's story of sexual assault been as criticized or scrutinized on a national scale as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony, delivered this September 27, before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford chose to stand as a witness before a panel of senators and her testimony was then followed by that of the accused Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Her story and his response have sparked debates and constant news coverage on the subject of sexual violence, sexual misconduct, and the way survivors of these crimes are treated once they choose to make their experiences public.

Her story has reached millions, garnering a local and international following. In the #MeToo era, stories like hers resonate deeply. Women and men are beginning to realize just how many people have stories like Ford’s. It’s about time that the world becomes exposed to stories like hers. And it’s about time that perpetrators of sexual assault notice the surge of women, men, and children coming forward to share stories like hers.

"I could see no direct parallels between her life and mine. My heart ached for her and I believed her story."

I didn’t realize at first the implications of Ford’s story in my daily life. As a university student living abroad some six thousand miles from Washington, DC., I could see no direct parallels between her life and mine. My heart ached for her and I believed her story, but I still searched to see how her words could form, could take on flesh and meaning in my surroundings. 

As I began to think, I recognized parts of her story in stories that were told to me in high school and during my time at university by friends or by classmates—either their own stories or others’. These memories and stories also came up with the #MeToo movement. Another feeling, a much more sinister one, arose as I surveilled Ford’s position. With many of the #MeToo stories, such as those told about Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, I read comment pages full of sympathetic messages. The media gave those women their full support. Everyone I spoke with believed them and heralded their bravery. 

With Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, however, politics have poisoned the public’s ability to empathize. Victim-blaming and victim-shaming trolls are joined by regular citizens in sharing contempt for Ford, in denouncing her testimony, in calling her a liar. 

"I choose to believe her, but as they won’t change mine, I will not change the minds of those who do not believe her."

There is no definitive way to know yet what the truth is; there isn’t. And it is unlikely that the American public will one day receive full proof of guilt or proof of innocence substantiated by a legal trial. Thus, we may never know with certainty if the assault Ford describes and Kavanaugh denies happened. 

I choose to believe her, but as they won’t change mine, I will not change the minds of those who do not believe her. What I would like to do, though, is caution those who decry her character and name for bringing her experience into light. 

The vehement, violent denial greatly affects me and greatly affects every student attending an American university. What this case does is set precedent for how we treat perpetrators of sexual assault and their victims, particularly young ones. At the time of the alleged incident, Kavanaugh was seventeen years old, only a year younger than some of my classmates. Ford was fifteen. Now a woman, she stands before a national and international audience. Now at age fifty-one, she is ready to come forward.  

Fifteen-year-old Christine Blasey did not tell her story. Neither did eighteen-year-old Christine Blasey. Neither did nineteen, twenty-one, nor twenty-two-year-old Christine. Those silent Christines, the voiceless Christines— those are the Christines closest in age to me and my peers. We are impressed by fifty-one-year-old Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and we listen to her but looking at her face we see an eloquent woman far closer in age to our mothers than to us. 

When I envision a teenage Christine, though, I can envision my close friends. I can envision my college classmates. I can see them sitting, as teenage Christine must have, alone, contemplating whether to share what they’ve experienced. Are they more afraid now, having seen the reaction powerful people have had to Ford’s story? Are they quieter? 

"The louder it is screamed and shouted that she is a liar, the harder it becomes for victims to tell their stories."

Whether or not you believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, you may not turn her story into an opportunity to silence the thousands of victims of sexual violence. The louder it is screamed and shouted that she is a liar, the harder it becomes for victims to tell their stories. When they hear disbelief, they hear disbelief then applied to their own situations. Disgust for her becomes disgust for them. Every “She should have told the police then and there!” becomes a reason for them to remain silent forever.  

The relevance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s story is not only in relation to politics or Supreme Court nominations. Her story is relevant to the countless number of students who have lived through abuse, for they may too suffer the same angry ignorance coming from the mouths of Kavanaugh’s supporters. The current treatment of adult Ford holds back the victims who fear now what fifteen-year-old Christine feared then: skepticism, retaliation, and a public shaming. I pray that neither I nor any of my friends or classmates suffer sexual assault but, as I also know that as one in five female students and one in sixteen male students on American college campuses are sexually assaulted during their time at university, the odds are that one of us will be. 

I hope that then the attacks against Ford’s credibility won’t dissuade him or her from being the only one in ten students to actually report their assault. I hope she can hear the voices that don’t instinctively side with the accused. I hope she can hear my voice. And I hope when she's ready that she will then hear her own voice, as strong as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s, naming her abuser.