I was less than twelve years old.
It was a game of hide-and-go-seek with about fifteen other “kids” who lived in my neighborhood, a rural suburb west of Worcester, Massachusetts. The setting was a densely wooded backyard of a family of nine, including seven children I considered friends. As the one who was chosen to be “it” closed their eyes and counted slowly to fifty at the designated “home base”…..the other players scrambled to conceal ourselves, searching for the best place to burrow, hoping not to be found.
I had located a great spot. I was sure I was safely hidden. I couldn’t hear or see the others from my vantage point and patiently waited crouched down in the bushes for my opportunity to rush back to the starting place without being caught. As I listened intently for the counting in the distance, suddenly someone grabbed me from behind, covered my mouth with their hand, wrestled me to the ground and while pressing their groin against me began to rub their other hand quickly and vigorously all over my body. As the faint sound of counting stopped followed by the shout of “ready or not, here I come”….he laughed, released me with a shove and ran to touch the “home base”.
I never told anyone.
I was stunned, embarrassed.
I was ashamed.
I couldn’t imagine how I would explain what had happened to my parents. I am not sure I even had the words.
I was fearful.
He was my best friend’s brother, close to sixteen years old. He was a big guy. A bit noxious at times. Would he retaliate? Would it be even worse the next time? Would he be punished? If he were reprimanded or worse, would I feel badly and responsible?
I started to doubt myself. I wondered if he was just being playful and I was overreacting? Was there something I did wrong….did I deserve this? If I say anything, will I be believed, made fun of, rejected by my world.…the friends on my little street?
The moments remain vividly locked in my memory. If I close my eyes, I can still feel his unwanted hands touching my chest, my groin area, his thrusting into my backside. It was my first introduction to male dominance, entitlement, power and privilege….to knowing at some primitive level that I was not an equal….to experiencing my body as something shameful and not completely mine.
Even at eleven years old….I knew it was a violation, but in that confused and disoriented state….I was reluctant to tell.
I never played the hiding game again.
I was a nineteen year-old young adult woman working in the Athletic Department of Holy Cross College with two other women who became cherished friends. We were similar in age with one another and with the student population. We had great working relationships with the coaches, the players, and other staff in the office, dated some of the student athletes, were close friends with many of them, and our social lives with all of the above were intertwined.
A kindly, playful older man, “Connie” was the janitor in our facility. He would pop in the office multiple times a day, bring us coffee, hang out, share in the college gossip and was generously available to be of assistance to the three of us…from jumping a car battery to carrying heavy boxes…always friendly and helpful. He was harmless, a grandfather type with an Irish brogue, a good guy….it was not unusual for him to put his arms around our shoulders and give us a “bear” hug.
And then there was the afternoon his hug became a clear groping and grabbing. He held onto my breast and for several seconds didn’t let go.
I never looked at him the same way again. I never trusted him again.
And I never told anyone.
I couldn’t bear having this man, my friend of several years, the man who I relied on like a relative, possibly fired from his job, I told myself, because of me. He had a wife, grandchildren.
Again, the confusing self-talk. Did I behave with him in some way that gave him the wrong impression? Maybe I was mistaken and in his exuberance to hug his hand slipped? That same disorientation and disbelief I had as a little girl.
On the other side of my bewilderment, I wondered why someone I trusted, someone who was my friend, would do this to me? So my rationalization was…it must be me.
I minimized it, justified it, sucked it up….and never forgot.
That same year, one of the football players, someone I knew well, exposed himself to me. I was in the dorm with friends. We were planning to attend a party on the bottom floor of the building.
He and I were both sober. He asked me if I would be willing to type a term paper for him, I said I would, and I followed him to his dorm room to pick it up.
Again….the same confusion.
According to the Child Sexual Assessment Center in Houston, Texas….“the prevalence of child sexual abuse is not known because so many victims do not disclose or report their abuse. Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). This means that there are 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year, 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least five years. Some never disclose. (Smith et al, 2000; Broman-Fulks et al, 2007).”
For the past few days, I have been aware of the internal visceral reactions I am having to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination and to the female professor who has come forward to accuse him of attempted rape when she was a fifteen year-old freshman and he was seventeen years old. All my old fears and sha materializing on the television screen.
Professor Ford, the accuser, has become the target of ridicule by the son of the President of the United States….his crayon scribbled, cartoon-like writing mocking the alleged victim of Kavanaugh’s sexual assault. She has been accused of having a personal vendetta against the Supreme Court nominee; pro-Trump websites according to CNN are “publishing stories to sow doubt about Ford’s credibility;” she’s been described in print as an “unhinged liberal professor” a “far-left accuser”; the conservative leaning Wall Street Journal argued that “Ford’s claims should not warrant a hearing nor a delay in the Kavanaugh confirmation”, calling it a political ploy. Her accusations are being referred to as “fake news” by some conservative activists.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who sits on the Hearing committee, has said that Professor Ford is “mistaken” and that “even if the accusation is true, Kavanaugh is a good man and Senators should judge him on who he is now”.
All of this pushback, even though a licensed psychotherapist and a polygraph test support her story.
This is exactly why women remain silent.
This is precisely why I did. This is why many women do.
Women know there is a high potential and probability they will be re-victimized.
I am old enough to remember Anita Hill grilled by a lineup of white, male, pin-striped Senators. She was not believed. Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court Justice despite the accusations of sexual harassment, corroborated by others.
What’s different this time?
This time the accusation is attempted rape.
There are four, fierce, formidable female Senators sitting on this Senate Judiciary Committee who will be questioning Mr. Kavanaugh and Professor Ford.
And…the “Me, Too” movement has created a more supportive and protective backdrop for women to be heard, believed, validated…for many women, providing the first crucial and important steps toward healing.
Brava, Professor Christine Blassey Ford….for your courage, your willingness to put your reputation, your family, yourself on the line in order to present a clearer depiction of the character of this man who wants to be a Supreme Court Judge.
Your voice is our collective voices.
As Symone Sauders, a former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders and victim of rape said in an interview today, “there is no incentive for Professor Ford to come forward, except to tell the truth.”
I believe Professor Ford. Period.