Kavanaugh hearings: why so many women saw themselves in Christine Blasey Ford’s story of sexual assault

As Christine Blasey Ford delivered her wrenching testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning, a 76-year-old woman identified as Brenda from Valley Park, Missouri, called in to C-SPAN during one of the breaks to share her own story of being molested.

As C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully listened, Brenda recounted the painful memory of being assaulted by a seventh-grade boy when she was in second grade, and getting upset when she saw him in school. She talked about struggling with a weight problem for years because she was “so afraid” someone would hurt her again. She got married and had a family, but after hearing Ford’s own story of sexual assault, the great-grandmother said she was sent back to that day of her attack.

“This brings back so much pain,” Brenda said. “You will never forget it. You get confused, and you don’t understand it, but you never forget what happened to you.”

Through tears, she continued: “I thought I was over this. I have not brought this up for years until I heard this testimony.”

As Ford detailed the haunting, 36-year-old memories of being a high school girl trying to escape a room in which she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a boy whom she identified as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, women saw something familiar in her story and began telling their own.

The hearing was emotional for women watching. People wept inside the small hearing room as she gave her opening statement. And outside the room, groups of women gathered together to stream the hearing on their phones, crying as they watched, according to the Atlantic’s Elaina Plott.

Even Fox News’s Chris Wallace was stirred by Ford’s testimony, sharing a personal story about how two of his daughters came forward amid the debate over the Kavanaugh allegations to tell him about things that happened to them during their high school years.

“I had never heard before about things that happened to them in high school — and hadn’t told their parents,” Wallace said on the air Thursday morning. “I don’t know if they told their friends. Certainly they never reported it to the police.”

Ford’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was a remarkable moment in history. But her story was not unique — it is one that millions of women have experienced at some point in their lives.

Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday.
Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

Women around the country recognized themselves in Ford’s story — both her recollections about the assault and the years of silence that followed. And they made that known as Ford’s testimony gripped the nation.

Ford spoke to an experience all too many women have had

Ford’s own testimony highlighted the lingering effects of the trauma inflicted by sexual assault.

“I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen,” Ford told senators. “Over the years, I told very, very few friends that I had this traumatic experience.”

Immediately, women began tweeting about how Ford’s story felt so familiar and had brought back their own memories of trauma.

NPR Justice Department correspondent Carrie Johnson called Ford’s testimony of hearing the laughter of the boys after the attempted assault “a deep gut punch because it is so sadly familiar.”

As Senate Judiciary ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) noted in her opening statement, sexual assault and harassment is still a sadly common phenomenon. Feinstein read off statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence in some form during their lifetime. Furthermore, she added, 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to data from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.

Feinstein noted that she had recently received a letter from a 60-year-old California constituent who recounted being assaulted when she was 17 years old.

“She described being terrified and embarrassed. She never told a soul until much later in life,” Feinstein said. “The assault stayed with her for 43 years. I think it’s important to remember these realities as we hear from Dr. Ford about her experience.”

Women across the country were listening to Ford on Thursday, and they related to her story. During his questioning time, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Ford he hoped her account would get through to America’s men as well, calling it “a profound public service.”

“You have given America an amazing teaching moment,” Blumenthal said. “You have inspired and you have enlightened America, you have inspired and given courage to women to come forward as they have done to every one of our offices, and many other public places. You have inspired and you have enlightened men in America to listen respectfully to women survivors and men who have survived sexual attack. And that is a profound public service, regardless of what happens with this nomination.”

Christine Blasey Ford is embraced by attorney Debra Katz at the end of her testimony on September 27, 2018.
Christine Blasey Ford is embraced by her attorney Debra Katz at the end of her Thursday testimony.
Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images

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