A woman who has accused Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault has told an historic committee hearing in Washington DC has been praised for coming forward by a democratic senator who said that “bravery is contagious”.
Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist from northern California, told the panel of senators that she believed Brett Kavanaugh would rape her during the alleged incident.
She said that she did not want to testify and that she was “terrified” but that she felt it was her “civic duty” to speak out about what she says happened to her when she was a teenager.
Kavanaugh, who is nominated for a vacant post on the Supreme Court, will also testify in what Donald Trump has called “an “important day in the history of our country”.
He has denied the allegations by Ford and two other women who have also made accusations against him since the nomination was announced.
Ford said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982 when both were high school students in Maryland.
She said she was 15 when she attended a party where she encountered Kavanaugh, who was 17 at the time. He and his friend shut her in a room and turned up the music to hide her protests as he assaulted her and covered her mouth to stifle her screams.
Kavanaugh called Ford’s allegation “completely false.”
During the hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy, praised Ford for coming forward.
He had also sat on the committee hearing in 1991 when Anita Hill made a testimony about her allegations of sexual harassment against the nomination of now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
He said: “Chairman, you and I were both here 27 years ago. At that time, the senate failed Anita Hill. I said I believed her. But I’m concerned that we’re doing a lot less for these three women today. That’s my personal view”
“Bravery is contagious. You sharing your story is going to have a lasting, positive impact on so many survivors in our country,” he said. “We owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you.”
Leahy then asked her what her most vivid memory of the alleged assault is. She replied: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.”
Later Senator Dick Durbin asked: “With what degree of certainty to believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?”
She replied: “100%”.
Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the committee, opened the hearing.
In his remarks, she spoke about the threats that both Ford, Kavanaugh and their families had received and said it was “unacceptable and a poor reflection on the state of civility in our democracy”.
“I want to apologise to both of you for the treatment you’ve received,” he said.
After hearing from leading Republican and Democrat members, Ford made her opening sentence. She was questioned by the 21 senators on the committee. Each will have five minutes to question her.
The all-male panel of Republicans deferred most of their questions to a female lawyer, Phoenix prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex crimes prosecutor.
Mitchell asked questions about the polygraph test Ford took, which she passed.
Ford said that she took the test after departing from her grandmother’s funeral, and that it was conducted in a hotel conference room near the Washington DC airport.
“So he administered a polygraph on the same day as your grandmother’s funeral?” Mitchell asked.
Ford says “correct, or it might have been the next day. I spent the night in the hotel. I don’t remember the exact day.”
Earlier Mitchell questioned why Ford told senators she couldn’t come to Washington to testify because she was afraid of flying.
Ford says she had hoped the senators might come to her in California, but realised “that was an unreasonable request”.
Mitchell then spent time detailing various times Ford had taken flights for work and vacations.
Ford agreed she had taken the flights but added “unfortunately” indicating that she did not enjoy taking them.
This point was picked up by the president’s son, Donald Trump Junior who seems to suggest that her answers about her fear of flying undermines her account of the alleged assault.
After Ford’s appearance, she will leave the room and Kavanaugh will enter and make his opening statement and then also be questioned in the same manner by the senators.
On Wednesday night, both Ford and Kavanaugh released their opening statements to the committee.
On the topic of why she has chosen to come forward, she will say in her statement, which can be read here.
I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. 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. I have described the events publicly before.
On the alleged sexual assault itself, she will say:
I truly wish I could provide detailed answers to all of the questions that have been and will be asked about how I got to the party, where it took place, and so forth. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. 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.
... Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.
In Kavanaugh’s opening statement, which can be read in full here, he will say:
Eleven days ago, Dr. Ford publicly accused me of committing a serious wrong more than 36 years ago when we were both in high school. I denied the allegation immediately, unequivocally, and categorically. The next day, I told this Committee that I wanted to testify as soon as possible, under oath, to clear my name.
...I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today. I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now. But that’s not why we are here today. What I’ve been accused of is far more serious than juvenile misbehavior. I never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).