brett kavanaugh, christine blasely ford

Death Threats and Harassment of Christine Blasey Ford Show Exactly Why Women Don’t Come Forward

Since everyone keeps asking.
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Since Christine Blasey Ford’s letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, accusing Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her in the 1980s, was made public, the expected arguments against her have come pouring out. There’s been plenty of speculation over what she has to gain and what her motives might be. (Ignoring the notion that maybe her motives were what she said, that her conscience drove her to finally share this story of a traumatic experience that she’d chosen to bury, involving a man who is now a Supreme Court nominee.)

The question that those choosing not to believe a victim of abuse always throw out is “Why didn’t she come forward sooner?” Well, again, let’s set aside the fact that Dr. Ford sent that letter shortly after Kavanaugh’s nomination was announced. She asked Sen. Feinstein to keep her name confidential “until we have further opportunity to speak.” She invited Feinstein to discuss the letter with her.

Feinstein instead chose to hand the matter over to the FBI. That was something the Senator chose to do, not Ford, but many are conflating the two in order to push a narrative about what “the left” is doing. But Christine Blasey Ford is a real woman, not a faceless Democratic operative, as so many choose to view her.

But if we’re asking why Ford didn’t come forward sooner—sooner than last week or just sooner in general—the answer is playing out at this moment. In addition to having to relive that trauma, have her character questioned and smeared, and face attacks by internet trolls (some of whom can’t even bother to attack the right Christine Ford), she’s received enough credible threats to have to move herself and her family out of their home.

Ford had reportedly been in talks with the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify regarding the contents of her letter, but the committee set her hearing for Monday, apparently without consulting her, and when she didn’t immediately confirm that was possible, many took it as a sign that they were right and she was lying all along. Otherwise, why wouldn’t she be prepared to testify? If she wasn’t ready to testify, they say, why did she come forward? (An argument that, again, ignores the fact that she only came forward publicly when news outlets were preparing to reveal her identity after months of having her letter ignored.)

Ford’s attorneys sent another letter on her behalf to Senators Feinstein and Grassley, detailing her experience over the last week and how the committee has contributed to it.

“In the 36 hours since her name became public, Dr. Ford has received a stunning amount of support from her community and from fellow citizens across our country,” the letter reads. “At the same time, however, her worst fears have materialized. She has been the target of vicious harassment and even death threats. As a result of these kind of threats, her family was forced to relocate out of their home. Her email has been hacked, and she has been impersonated online.”

She still looks forward to cooperating, the letter says, but she doesn’t trust the committee to act in a non-partisan manner. “As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before,” it reads, “an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations.” This, she says, could ensure that “crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.”

But in addition to the logistical barriers of traveling across the country and testifying in front of a Senate committee (not exactly a casual endeavor), that committee has not shown interest in creating an atmosphere that is anything but antagonistic. The letter states:

“While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident. The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is “mistaken” and “mixed up.” While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials.”

It’s disturbing how reminiscent Ford’s experience is of that of Anita Hill, who similarly came forward in 1991, reluctantly, to share the sexual harassment she experienced when working with then-SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas. (And if we’re still looking for reasons women in this situation don’t want to come forward, Hill didn’t want to be known more for her role in her harasser’s life story than for her own successful career. No woman wants that.)

Hill published an essay in The New York Times yesterday, commenting on the similarities and how the committee can and must do better:

“Today, the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.”

“In 1991, the phrase ‘they just don’t get it’ became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence,” Hill writes. “With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, ‘not getting it’ isn’t an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our senators must get it right.”

(via NYT, image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.