I Believe Doctor Ford

I Believe Doctor Ford (Originally posted on Facebook Sept. 29, 2018)

Like pretty much everyone on Thursday, September 27th, I was absolutely riveted by the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding Doctor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court Nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. I watched what I could before leaving for the day, listened via live stream while walking dogs at Griffith Park, and tuned into NPR whilst commuting from client to client.

By the time Kavanaugh took his seat before the committee, my phone was gasping its last breaths, which meant I could no longer listen as I walked. To say I was on pins and needles until I could get back in my car would be an understatement.

As a person who was sexually assaulted when I was nineteen by Father Paul Maher on June 9, 1984, I was right there in the room with Dr. Ford as she recollected the traumatic details of the night Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was fifteen years-old. It was difficult to hear and not get emotional and it was impossible not to relive my own trauma.

Surprisingly, what shook me to my core more than Dr. Ford’s description of what happened to her in that bedroom was when she stated:

"I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened."

For years, I minimized what happened to me in the sacristy of Saint Ferdinand’s Church by telling myself I should be thankful because it could have been so much worse. And up until very recently, my understanding of sexual assault meant rape; and since I wasn’t raped, I felt I couldn’t define what happened to me as sexual assault; assault being such a violent sounding word, and my experience wasn’t violent; assertive, definitely, but not in a manner in which I feared for my life.

Now that I’ve been enlightened, it’s become increasingly clear to me that there are still lots of folks out there who don’t understand what sexual assault actually is.

Take, for instance, that Trump supporting mom with two daughters from Bozeman, Montana, who went viral recently with her comments regarding Dr. Ford’s testimony:

"Groping a woman? Which is, what is that, at eighteen? I mean, how many guys do you know who think that's no big deal? Even back then? It's no big deal..."

Wow.

Just to assure myself I was clear about what constitutes sexual assault, I consulted Google.

I got this from a SELF magazine article titled, What Is Sexual Assault (and What Isn’t), According to the LAW, written by Korin Miller and published November 3rd, 2017:

"What does 'sexual assault' actually mean? It's actually harder to define than you think. According to the United States Department of Justice,'sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.' Sexual assault is basically an umbrella term that includes sexual activities such as rape, fondling, and attempted rape."

Under this umbrella, I was absolutely, undeniably, sexually assaulted.

And so was Dr. Ford.

Nevertheless, getting to the bottom of Dr. Ford’s sexual assault didn’t seem nearly as pressing as sussing out the logistics.

More than once, Dr. Ford was questioned about the minutiae of how she arrived and departed the gathering that evening, as well as the address of the home in which she was assaulted, all in an attempt to discredit the validity of her testimony.

While I remember vividly the details of my assault; the way Father Paul pressed his groin into my backside, his breath against my right ear, the deliberate squeeze of my left breast; I could not, for the life of me, tell you how I got home. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t remember if my brother picked me up after mass, or if I drove myself home. I can’t even recall if I told my mom that night or the next morning. I simply don’t remember.

"Brett's assault on me drastically altered my life. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details..."   

I, too, grappled with profound shame, albeit for a different reason: I never reported Father Paul to any authority, not even when the media began reporting on the widespread sexual abuse in the Church and a sex abuse hotline for the Los Angeles archdiocese became available. You have no idea how many times I picked up the phone, but every single time, I choked with embarrassment because what happened to me was nothing compared to the horrific abuse suffered by countless others. At least that’s what I told myself.

For a long time, I lived with that undercurrent of guilt and shame for not reporting Father Paul, who, interestingly enough, departed for a new parish the very day after my assault. That he may have gone on to harm someone else because I lacked the courage to report him still occasionally weighs heavily on my conscience. Fortunately, Father Paul died in 2012 and I take great comfort in knowing he’ll never hurt anyone again.

Unlike so many sexual assault survivors, I can’t say my experience significantly altered my life, in that it didn’t hinder me from becoming a fully formed, emotionally intelligent, productive, creative, responsible human who is quite capable of fostering healthy relationships. However, it doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally haunted by memories of that day in the sacristy. The thing about sexual assault is, you don’t get over it, so much as you move through it as best you can.

There were moments during Dr. Ford’s testimony that made my skin crawl and brought me to tears. Truth-be-told, I’ve been crying on and off for the last couple of days.

For the last thirty years, or so, I believed I had my sexual assault neatly packed away; that it no longer had a palpable effect on me, but Dr. Ford’s vivid account of her assault, coupled with her admission of suffering periodic bouts of PTSD quite unexpectedly triggered me to no end.

Suddenly, there I was again, in the sacristy with Father Paul. His left arm tightly encircled about my torso pulling me against him, as his right hand crept across my chest until my left breast was firmly in hand. That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. The slight claustrophobia from being restrained. The paralysis.

Now that I have a greater understanding of the after effects of sexual assault, it has finally occurred to me why I always get slightly squeamish and wildly uncomfortable whenever my young adult daughter spontaneously hugs me from behind and why it takes everything I have in me to fight the urge to push her away so as not to hurt her feelings:

While my conscious mind has, for the most part, intellectualized and compartmentalized my assault so I could keep moving forward, my body, on the other hand, has clearly not forgotten. 

The vast majority of sexual assault survivors will never report what happened, will never confront their attackers in court, or elsewhere, and certainly would not likely have the courage to sit before a Senate Judicial Committee and testify, under penalty of perjury, while the whole thing plays out in front of millions of people.

Dr. Ford had nothing, absolutely nothing to gain by coming forward with an allegation of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh. Why on earth would she put herself, her husband, her entire family, through such an harrowing ordeal unless her accusation was true?

"I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr.  Kavanaugh’s conduct so that those considering his nomination would know about this assault." 

Despite being absolutely “terrified” Dr. Ford mustered the courage to act in accordance with what she strongly felt was her civic duty. (Think about that the next time you complain about jury duty, or you can’t be bothered to vote.)

"Apart from the assault itself, these past couple  of weeks have been the hardest of my life. I’ve had to relive this trauma in front of the world. And I’ve seen my life picked apart by  people on television, on Twitter, other social media, other media and in this body, who have never met me or spoken with me. 

I have been accused of acting out of partisan political motives. Those who say that do not know me. I’m an independent person and I am no one’s pawn.

My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.

It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell you the truth."

And I believe her.

#metoo #drford #kavanaugh #IBelieveHer #istandwithdrford #timesup #BelieveSurvivors #BelieveWomen #VoteNo#resist #VoteThemOut

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