Oftentimes when Americans think about a person exemplifying patriotism, they conjure images of a courageous soldier defending American values and protecting her country against enemies, foreign and domestic. If you take that same framework of someone acting with courage even when at direct personal cost, it is evident that Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, demonstrates this courage and determination.
In July, Ford sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who later passed it on to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the letter, Ford describes being sexually assaulted by current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge. The assault included the two men shoving her into a bedroom, playing loud music with the intent to drown out her cries for help, repeatedly and violently groping her and drunkenly attempting to remove her clothing. Though the initial letter was anonymous, she has since allowed The Washington Post to publish her name in coordination with her allegations.
Since her story has become public, Ford has faced atrocious personal attacks and questions about the veracity of her claims, including an assertion by The Wall Street Journal that she might be misremembering the incident because she had discussed it in marriage counseling with her husband dating back to 2012. Many conservative politicians and pundits, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have asserted that she has come forward solely for political reasons and cited abortion as top among them. And on Friday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a letter of support for Brett Kavanaugh signed by 65 women who, according to Kavanaugh, knew him in high school (it is important to note that he attended an all-boys school). If Kavanaugh’s first line of defense is citing a group of women he did not assault to prove that he could not possibly have assaulted another woman, then surely his qualifications as a lawyer and a nominee to serve on the Supreme Court should be called into question. Either way, this letter was released with the cruel intent to undermine her allegations against Kavanaugh by painting him as the nice guy incapable of what Dr. Ford claims.
Despite these malicious attacks, Ford has offered to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24. With the re-opening of the Senate hearings based on sexual misconduct allegations, Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has become parallel in mind to the hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation.
In the early 1990s, Clarence Thomas was nominated by then-President George H.W. Bush for the Supreme Court of the United States. When the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings ended, Thomas’s nomination looked to be in a fine position for confirmation. However, an FBI interview leaked that contained allegations claiming Thomas had repeatedly sexually harassed Anita Hill, a lawyer who had worked with him. After the leak, the hearings were reopened and Hill was subjected to extraordinarily sexist questioning, including “Are you a scorned woman?” asked by then-Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala. She endured vicious personal attacks by both the committee and the media, often shaded by misogyny and racism. Others threatened Hill’s life, attempted to get her fired and discredited her work as a lawyer.
The virulent treatment of Anita Hill by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, the media and a large part of the American people is enough evidence to explain why Ford might forgo making public something that is extremely personal, and that occurred over three decades ago. And for many survivors of sexual harassment, assault or rape, the cultural shame and deep trauma they have endured can silence them for years, decades or even lifetimes. Even after Ford’s name became public and she demonstrated evidence of the assault, many downplayed or repudiated the allegations against Kavanaugh outright.
When Kavanaugh was officially nominated to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States by President Donald Trump, Ford chose to defend her country from generations of extremely radical judicial decisions by a man she knew to have heinously committed sexual assault. She chose to speak out in the same world that destroyed Hill in the 1990s when she too stood up against her harasser, a world that also went on to confirm Thomas to the highest court of the land. Ford spoke up in a world where that same man, Thomas, continues to sit on the Supreme Court, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing.
Ford knows she lives in a country that would rather excuse the disgusting and violent behavior of powerful men by sweeping it under the rug or discouraging reporters from investigating credible allegations than deliver justice to their victim(s). She knows exactly what is at stake and did not silently sit back, even at great personal risk. Instead, she stood up and told the story of her sexual assault in hopes of stopping the destructive path of yet another powerful man. And for this, Ford is a true American patriot.
Marisa Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.