When I was 15 years old, in the ‘80s, my parents sent me to a new school because my grades were poor. I was a painfully shy kid, and I wasn’t allowed to date yet, but it wasn’t long before I had a crush on a boy.
My parents sent me to a therapist that year in order to figure out why I was having trouble in school. Instead of talking about my schoolwork, however, I asked my shrink what I should do about my crush. He told me that sometimes, when you have sex with someone, the person will develop feelings of love for you. This was terrible advice to give a young girl, but it was the only adult guidance I had on the subject at the time.
Oddly enough, my crush had started making jokes about sex: about wanting to have it — with me. The attention was overwhelming. He was tall, handsome, funny, and cool. And he was talking to me. I’d had a hard time making friends that year as everyone else seemed to have their cliques figured out, and they weren’t in a hurry to add someone new.
Then, on the last afternoon before winter break, I wandered away from the school Christmas party – too shy to talk to anyone — and ran into my crush in a campus building.
We were alone, unsupervised. He was taking a make-up exam, I think. He asked me if I wanted to go in the bathroom with him and give him a hand job. We’d joked about things like that before, and in that spirit, I followed him in — but then I changed my mind. When I tried to leave, he locked the door, saying we were going to have sex. He added that if I chickened out, he'd flush my head in the toilet.
I had never been on a single date; I was a virgin. I didn’t want to lose my virginity in a public restroom. It was not a consensual encounter, but I’ve never been sure whether I can properly call it rape. I had to cooperate for penetration to occur, but I felt the threat of humiliation and potential violence.
Confusingly, I still would have been his girlfriend after that if he'd wanted me to. Somehow, that seemed like a way to make sense of what had happened, to make it all okay. I didn't know how it all worked. I had no guidance except for the bad advice my therapist had given me on “feelings of love.”
The feelings of love did not materialize. I’m not sure I understood back then that you could call it rape if it was someone you knew and someone you liked. We didn’t talk about consent then, not at my school anyway. Even if I did know about consent, what would have been the point of calling it rape or telling anyone what happened and asking for help? He’d already told everyone his version: he’d nailed me in the bathroom. So I kept quiet.
It didn’t help. He bullied me in other ways, too. He stole a hat that I had, and when I told a teacher, hoping for some help in getting it back, they did nothing to help me.
So when Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations regarding Brett Kavanaugh surfaced, this long-ago incident was the first thing that came to mind. Ford’s decisions about when and whom to tell don’t strike me as suspect; instead, they remind me of my own. There never seemed much point in telling my sad, muddled story, except to people in my life who care about me. But what if I saw the name of the man who locked me in the bathroom on a list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court of the United States? In her experience and my own, one specific detail comes back to me: the locked door. And a chill goes down my spine.
Right now, Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote has been placed on hold. Ford might testify about her experience with Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but she’s asked for the FBI to investigate her allegations. I think that she must testify, but it’s a massive understatement to say that I sympathize with any hesitation she may feel. Since she made her identity public, she’s received death threats and has had to go into hiding. She knows what will happen when she testifies: they’ll condescend to her, accuse her, tear her apart. So why come forward at all? In cases like this, and in cases against less powerful men, the cost of speaking up is so great that many women are moved to speak up only when it becomes clear that staying silent will greatly impact others. This is one of those times.
We aren’t talking about sending Kavanaugh to jail. We’re talking about deciding whether he is fit to serve on the highest court in the land. Survivors of assault — and there are a great many of us, women and men — need to see that these allegations are being taken seriously. At a minimum, we need a thorough investigation.
We subject public officials to extraordinary scrutiny for a reason: they are empowered to make decisions that affect all of us. Kavanaugh’s response to these allegations is a measure of how well he understands this. Thus far, all he has done is categorically deny. Can’t Kavanaugh do better? Can’t we expect him to show some understanding of what a Supreme Court appointment means? He’ll have the power to make decisions that will affect all Americans for generations to come.
More to the point: Can’t we find someone who’s never locked a girl in a room? Because if we don’t, we’re setting an example that this type of behavior is not only excusable, but also rewarded.
This is a personal essay from Kris Herndron. Her viewpoints do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s.