Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testifying yesterday before the Congressional Judiciary Committee, seemed to surprise many viewers with what Brian Williams described on MSNBC as her “extraordinary ordinariness.” But Ford, who teaches psychology at Palo Alto University in California and earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Southern California, and master's degrees from Stanford and Pepperdine University was anything but an “ordinary” victim or witness.
Using her knowledge of the clinical science of how the human brain processes trauma and creates memory, Ford was both victim and expert witness. Asked to describe her most vivid memory of the alleged assault, she told Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy that, “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”
Later she clarified, "I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another." What remained most vivid, after more than 30 years, was the way in which she herself was almost secondary to her own assault. To these boys she was an object, as human as a football - something to be played with and tossed aside. This was the part that still terrified Ford.
There is an incredibly high bar of believability that sexual assault survivors must meet — and exceed — in order to be believed. They must be credible not only in their recall of details but also in the way in which they present their accusations. Everything is subject to scrutiny: what were they wearing, were they drinking, what is their reputation? Under this kind of microscope, it’s easy to imagine how a victim of sexual assault might feel objectified and re-victimized by the need to meet the standards of an anonymous and ever-shifting checklist of allowable behaviors.
By all standards, Ford met and even exceeded expectations. A well-educated, successful, white woman, she often apologized for her lack of absolute clarity on small details, even while explaining the scientific processes that would make this kind of recall difficult. She was kind, she was polite, she smiled and demurred to the senators in charge of the hearing. She asked for one thing — a cup of coffee — and settled for a coke instead, because it was necessary to Ford’s believability that she be agreeable.
Could any of us have hoped to have the composure and pedigree of Ford if put in a similar situation? What would we have to do to be heard — let alone believed? What if we were not white, not conventionally attractive, if we were without a support system or the economic means to obtain experienced legal counsel?
We know that nearly two thirds of sexual assaults go unreported to the police. We know that women are conditioned to appease and avoid male anger. We know that Ford, with so many things in her favor, still described herself as “terrified” to give her testimony. We know that perpetrators of sexual violence are the least likely criminals to go to prison.
We know all this and yet, when asked what he thought of Ford’s testimony, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch couldn't say whether or not he believed her. Instead he told reporters, "I think she's an attractive, good witness.".
Despite Ford’s credibility the vote to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination will go forward. Republican Senators have been careful to avoid saying that Dr. Ford is not telling the truth. They have been just as careful to avoid saying whether or not they believe she is telling the truth.
On Fox News, Senator Lindsey Graham stated that he believed, “Miss Ford has got a problem, and destroying Judge Kavanaugh’s life won’t fix her problem.”
And following the committee's muddled and confusing decision to advance Kavanaugh's nomination with the suggestion of a one week FBI investigation before a vote on the floor, President Trump reiterated that Ford had been a model witness.
"She looks like a very fine woman," he said. He had nothing to say about the implications or details of her testimony.
And in the end, it may not matter.