On Thursday morning (Sept. 27), thousands of Americans tuned in as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford shared the story of a sexual assault she allegedly experienced at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. For 16 minutes, Ford bravely recounted the events of that summer evening, and the way she asserts that 17-year-old Kavanaugh forcibly entrapped, groped, and assaulted her 15-year-old self at a small house party in Maryland.
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” Ford, a Palo Alto university professor and mother of two, said in her opening statement. “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.”
Following her statement, Ford was asked a series of questions by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and also by Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex crimes prosecutor expressly chosen by Republicans for the role. Despite Mitchell’s attempts to control her tone, the intent to poke holes in Ford’s story was all-too apparent, with certain questions carrying the clear smack of stereotypical tactics used to undermine sexual assault survivors.
“Why have you held (the assault) to yourself all these years?” Mitchell at one point questioned.
Ford’s response was measured — she reminded Mitchell that she hadn’t kept it to herself; that she had disclosed the incident in couple’s therapy, which she felt was an “appropriate place” to discuss trauma. The fact she had to formulate a response in the first place, however, harkens back to a point Ford had made earlier, in her opening statement.
“Sexual assault victims should be able to decide for themselves when and whether their private experience is made public,” she said. “The sequela of sexual assault varies by person.”
Throughout the hearing, support for Ford flooded social media, with many on Twitter praising not only her courage for coming forward, but also the poise with which she was able to articulate the details of such a traumatic episode in her life (and effectively undergo cross-examination about it to boot).
In particular, Twitter users were quick to highlight Ford's use of science to defend her memory of the event, with several users simulataneously emphasizing what a credible source she was.
The courage Ford showed by, for the public good, exposing herself and her family to widespread scrutinity and even threats over such a painful, vulnerable moment in her life cannot be overstated. And, as a highly educated woman, the way she carried herself under immense pressure and articulated her story was also impressive, to be sure.
Yet we as a public should be careful not to overemphasize her poise and its connection to her credibility, as another Twitter user perfectly summed up.
As this Twitter user pointed out, if we as a public choose to believe Ford and grant her credibility (subconsciously or not) because of her status as a highly educated person, that is NOT a victory for women and sexual assault survivors at large. Instead, it perpetuates an old model of who we are willing to believe — people who are economically secure, and educated, and white, and cis-gendered, and all other aspects of identity we associate credibility with. And where does that leave survivors from marginalized groups who don't fit within these classifications? Had Ford come from a background that didn't lend her the ability to apply terms like "sequela" and "hippocampus" to her testimony, how would the public's response to her today have differed?
Of course, women have historically comprised a large part of the group that society denies credibility to, but the question of who we believe deserves belief goes further than that — much further. And in our support of Ford, it's imperative we ensure that the public dialogue is leaving space and inclusion for all survivors to be believed, regardless of class, race, or gender. Because all survivors deserve that.