Given what could modestly be described as trying circumstances, Dr Christine Blasey Ford strikes a remarkably bright, albeit nervous, presence. “I think I may need some caffeine after this,” she tells the Senate Judiciary Committee, before reading a prepared statement detailing her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” she says, admitting she doesn’t recall every detail.
“But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult.”
She recounts attending an impromptu social gathering with Kavanaugh and others as a 15-year-old some time in the early ’80s. At one point in the evening, she says she was pushed into a bedroom and set upon by Kavanaugh, while their mutual friend Mark Judge allegedly watched and laughed. In her telling, it seems only the debilitating drunkenness of her attacker prevented the assault eventually becoming rape.
Her voice cracks, emotion pinching at the ends of sentences, as much at recalling the details — the music in the bedroom being turned up, the one-piece swimwear she had under clothes that slowed the drunken, fumbling hands, the second front door she had installed in her home decades later to alleviate her tendency to claustrophobia — as the traumatic peaks: the forcible grinding of his body against hers, the laughter of the pair, the hand over her mouth to deaden her screams for help, which trapped the breath in the back of her throat.
“I thought Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
At these points, her voices falters, she swallows and breathes, but she does not cry.
She describes the lingering shame that prevented her reporting the incident at the time, her attempts to tamp down the trauma in the intervening years, and harassment and threats that followed her name being made public after she came forward. Her family has since moved house.
She finishes. Someone offers her a Coke, which she accepts. Briefly scattered, visibly pulsing with adrenaline, she leans in a little too close to the microphone, which pops slightly when she concludes, “thank you”.
The Republican senators — particularly committee chairman Chuck Grassley — walk the fine line of expressing concern and sympathy for Ford, while attempting to discredit her and the process that brought her before them. As such, they outsource her interrogation to a sex crimes prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, whose line of inquiry is revealed in five-minute episodes, as each Republican senator cedes their questions to her.
She is brisk, professional and forensic, but three hours into the hearing, and there is still no knockout blow — just unpacking of little details, little discrepancies, none of which fundamentally undermine Ford’s credibility. It seems a cynical move, both keeping the Republicans hands clean of having to interrogate an alleged victim of assault, while ensuring it happens, and happens as rigorously as possible.
And, of course, the cynicism, the pure politics underlying the event cannot be ignored. Kavanaugh is the Republican pick for the Supreme Court, a youngish, hard conservative whose lifetime appointment (if it happens) would mould the political landscape in the conservative image for decades to come. Appointments like his are exactly why the party has stood by Donald Trump through a truly exhausting number of scandals.
The Democrats, apart from the obvious reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s appointment, have not forgotten Merrick Garland.
For their part, Democratic senators use their questions to laud her bravery, burnish her credibility and eviscerate their Republican colleagues (and their president) for failing to call for an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations, which ranking member Dianne Feinstein says would be the fairest course of action for both Ford and Kavanaugh. Coincidentally, such an investigation would also presumably delay the vote on Kavanaugh’s appointment until after November’s mid-term elections, during which the Democrats are hoping to win back the house. Ford has denied completely that there is any political motivation to her allegations.
The politics, of course, don’t have any impact on the underlying truth or otherwise of what Ford alleges — and even Republicans have been careful to acknowledge that she may have been attacked, it just might not have been Kavanaugh.
Throughout the hearing, the most striking questions Democratic senators asked, (and they almost all asked it) was one they seemed know would be answered unequivocally:
Senator Durbin: ‘Dr. Ford, with what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?’
Kavanaugh has “categorically and unequivocally” denied the allegations.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.