It’s been six weeks since Dr Christine Blasey Ford told the United States Congress that she was sexually assaulted by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Despite the fact that many commentators observed that Kavanaugh was uncooperative and aggressive in his testimony about the alleged assault, he won nomination to the Supreme Court almost immediately after the hearings. He has already begun hearing cases before the court in the current sitting term.
But for Dr Ford, the ordeal is far from over. Her lawyers told NPR yesterday that she is still receiving constant death threats as a result of her decision to speak up. Weeks on from the hearings, from Kavanaugh’s seamless ascent to the bench, his accuser is still under daily threat from people who have access to her contact details and personal information.
She has had to move house four times. She has had to hire a private security detail at great expense as the threats were frequent and credible. She has not been able to return to her job as a professor at the Palo Alto University.
During the hearings, Ford testified to the threats and abuse she was receiving at the time. She said her and her family had to move between “various secure locales” to avoid danger. What is more shocking still is that this imminent threat of danger to Ford has not subsided, even though the issue itself has been resolved – in favour of Brett Kavanaugh.
This script plays out again and again. In 2017, Andrea Constand reported facing large amounts of threats, abuse and bullying regarding her accusation of sexual assault against Bill Cosby. Cosby was found guilty of the assault, but this did not stop the threats and harassment.
Twenty-seven years ago, when Anita Hill accused now-Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual assault, she also faced death threats and feared for her safety.
It is damaging enough to survivors that Ford’s allegations were dealt with and dismissed so swiftly by the US Senate and that Kavanaugh was hoisted to one of the most powerful positions in the world without much trouble. It is offensive to survivors to know that we will never bother to find out exactly what happened on that night in the 1980s. It is offensive to survivors that if this assault did happen, Kavanaugh will never be held accountable for it. Instead, he will spend the rest of his years on the other side of the bench, dispensing justice as he sees fit.
But the consequences Ford has suffered since testifying show us is that the tragedy goes far further than this: not only did Ford have to watch her attacker go free, she was consistently – and still is – being treated as the perpetrator of a heinous crime instead of the victim of one. For all our discussion about the men being felled by #MeToo, it is worth noting that by and large these men have been able to carry on with their lives, free to leave behind the allegations and move on. This is certainly true of Kavanaugh. But for those who speak out – for Ford, for Constand, for Hill – the ordeal is unrelenting.
Never has it been more clear how much we need to protect survivors from those who wish to punish them for speaking up, because while the cultural zeitgeist may have shifted, the consequences for survivors have not. At the end of the day, no amount of positive public support or dialogue can protect a woman receiving death threats on her front door.
To add insult to injury, Republicans in the Senate spent much of the hearing asking Ford why it had taken her so long to come forward. Why hadn’t she said anything right away, they wanted to know. Why say something now?
This insinuation that women make up false rape accusations against powerful men as part of some sort of game bears no relation to the reality of survivors’ experience. As we have seen, again and again, those who choose to speak up are severely punished. The idea that anyone would willingly bring this danger upon themselves is as bizarre as it is damaging.
The truth is the Republicans have answered their own question: the reason Ford did not come forward earlier is because to raise your head above the proverbial parapet as a woman is very dangerous indeed. The reason she did not come forward is that she knew that powerful men like them would ensure Kavanaugh was protected. The reason she did not come forward is because she knew how high a price she would pay.
But when faced with his ascent to the Supreme Court, Ford decided to put her own safety aside and speak up. But it all came to nothing: Kavanaugh is a Justice of the Supreme Court and Ford is unemployed, homeless and unsafe. Why would anyone put themselves in her position?
The fact that Ford is still unsafe weeks after Kavanaugh has taken his seat on the bench tells us all we need to know about why women don’t speak up about assault. It sends a strong message to other survivors that they will be punished if they come forward. It shows us just how far we have to go before #MeToo becomes more than just a conversation.