Dr. Christine Blasey Ford grew up near me in a Washington, D.C., suburb, during the 1980s. I went to an all-girls private school near Ford’s girls’ school. I was sexually assaulted, within a year or two of the assault Dr. Ford experienced, by a boy from an all-boys private school near Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s boys’ school. I know Dr. Ford’s family. I attend the same church as Judge Kavanaugh, and I know many of his supporters well.
Witnessing Dr. Ford’s treatment by those in power and by women who are loyal to Judge Kavanaugh, along with Kavanaugh’s anger and evasiveness, has been retraumatizing to me and to many other survivors I know. I can’t help imagining a young, carefree Christine Ford, happy to have been invited to a party where the popular kids were hanging out. I remember myself as a teen, giddy with the attention the popular sports star was showering on me as I tried to drink away my nervousness.
At that time, there was a huge partying culture in the D.C. suburban high school environment. Fake IDs were easy to make or procure. The police of that era would frequently let people go with a warning, or a call to parents about rowdy drunken behavior. The older among us were looked up to, especially students who were popular or excelled at sports. It was a club-like atmosphere.
It was Beach Week, 1980. During a specific week each June, the Maryland and Delaware shores are overrun by teens from D.C.-area high schools for a week of debauchery. It’s usually only graduating seniors who go to Beach Week. I went as a junior, perhaps because my parents did not understand what Beach Week was about at the time.
I could not believe my good fortune when the best-looking guy at our brother high school showered me with his attention at a beach bar we’d all been admitted to using fake IDs. Me–a junior, no less! But at one point, I blacked out. I woke up in the boy’s rented beach house, disoriented, as he pulled out and off of me.
I was horrified and scared. What happened? Where was I? Where were my friends?
I do not think the boy and I even exchanged words after I came to. I ran out of the house. I told no one where I had been. I still remember the slatted doors on the closet. Another boy watched the entire episode from inside that closet. For reasons unfathomable to me, this student admitted to me on my 40th birthday, in 2003, that he had watched the entire 1980 incident. He is a high-profile man in my community, and I considered having a subpoena issued to compel his testimony. My therapist advised against it; she thought opening the case would do me more harm than good.
I found my rapist on social media not long ago. He now has two daughters and lives several states away. I wonder if he thinks about his girls’ safety now, knowing what he did to me.
I can relate to Dr. Ford’s vivid memory of the bedroom and nearby bathroom the night she was assaulted. And the laughter. I also understand why Dr. Ford may not have come forward earlier with her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. Those who do air such matters are often subject to vilification, slut-shaming, retraumatization, and other negative consequences. It take a tremendous amount of strength to do what Dr. Ford did, strength that I lacked for decades.
For many years, I did not tell a soul what happened to me. I thought no one would believe me. I was filled with shame. I berated myself with questions like, “How could I have been so stupid as to put myself in that risky situation?”
There was no social media in the 1980s—thank God. Most people’s reputations were smeared by word of mouth or through messages written on bathroom walls. I remember seeing things like “Cheryl is a slut” scratched on the wall in a bathroom stall at my school. I did not want my name on that wall of shame.
I wish I had told my parents about what happened, but I could not. My father was extremely strict, hot-tempered, and unpredictable. I was afraid of what he might do. President Trump’s assertion that Dr. Ford or her parents could have summoned the FBI to investigate at the time of the incident is incredible to me. Maddening, even.
The effects of a traumatic experience can reverberate long after someone is sexually assaulted. I can tell you some of the ways what happened to me more than thirty years ago still affects me. I remain hypervigilant around men. It is hard for me to trust men. I don’t like being touched by men I don’t know or for men to come too close to me. When a man I don’t know tries to hug me, I sometimes physically recoil. I was fearful for my daughter when she matured physically, and I became a helicopter parent in my attempt to prevent what happened to me from happening to her. I jumped in front of her if I saw men checking her out when we were walking down the street. I nagged her to let me know where she was and who she was with at all times. I tried to chaperone every dance and drive as many carpools as possible. I befriended her friends in a feeble attempt to obtain as much information as possible. I was nauseous throughout beach week her senior year and relieved when she returned home without incident. I tracked both of my children on the “Find my Phone” app, and I could never sleep until they returned home safely. I searched for clues on their social media pages to ensure nothing bad had happened to them that they were not sharing with me. “What did you mean by this reference?” “What was in the red plastic cup?” “Do you always ensure that you get your own drink so no one can drug it?” I would ask.
I checked that parents would be present at every gathering. I questioned my children relentlessly, which, instead of eliciting information, had the opposite effect. I drove them and myself crazy, projecting my fears onto their lives. I sensed them distancing themselves from me. I knew they had to learn from their own mistakes, but I did not want them to suffer what I had been through.
I still experience flashbacks. Sometimes a glimpse of a rug that resembles the rug found in that beach-week bedroom brings bile to my throat.
It took more than twenty years for me to tell anyone about being raped by a fellow high school student. In high school, and since, when someone has been wronged, I see people flock unquestioningly to the side of the more popular person involved in the dispute. When a young woman in my community recently confided to me about her rapist, she said some of her friends did not believe her because her assailant was “such a good guy.” Even today, people refer to those who grew up in suburban D.C. Catholic schools as the “Catholic mafia.” There is a great deal of blind loyalty in the community.
After the assault, I was full of shame and self-hatred that affected me for many years. I realize now that secrets keep one sick. It was only when I allowed other women to bear witness to my pain, and when I worked with a therapist, that I was able to heal.
One in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Those are just the reported cases. If short shrift is given to the allegations brought to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s attention, it will drive victims back into the shadows and send the message that “boys will be boys” remains a widely held attitude in our society, excusing misogynistic behavior. Such treatment would do a disservice not only to Dr. Ford, but to all of those like me who are watching to see what happens during the proceedings. A full investigation, on the other hand, will underscore accountability for serious personal violations and could spur victims to seek the help they need to heal and move forward. This seems like a critical moment in the #MeToo movement.
I wish the #MeToo movement had emerged earlier. It was only because high-profile stars came forward that the movement gained traction and widespread publicity. Before that, I thought I was a freak because of what had happened to me. I felt so alone. I had no idea how common sexual assault is in our society.
Now, I spend time counseling women who have survived sexual assault, and I try to help them heal. It hurts my heart when a young woman will not file charges, but I understand. I am in long-term recovery from alcoholism, and I’ve seen how many people in addiction recovery have sexual assaults in their past. Helping others helps me; it turns my painful experience into a force for good. I firmly believe that when we share our pain, we cut it in half, and when we share our joy, we multiply it.
 National Sexual Violence Resource Center, http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf
Image By: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2018/03/11/15/15/door-3217006_960_720.jpg