Christine Blasey Ford remembers everything about the time she says Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge attacked her in a second-floor bedroom in suburban Maryland during the summer of 1982.
She remembers how they laughed while she struggled under Kavanaugh’s weight, his hand on her mouth, fearing he might accidentally kill her in an attempt to keep her quiet.
She remembers making eye contact with Judge, hoping he would save her as she struggled for her life, “but he did not.”
When asked by the female sex crimes prosecutor deputized by the 11 male Senate Republicans to do their dirty work for precise details about the house where the attack happened, she offered to sketch a floor plan.
Ford is not confused.
Despite attempts by the White House and others to portray her account as unreliable, Ford herself never once relied on caveats like “to the best of my recollection” in describing the assault she’s been unable to forget for the last 36 years.
She knows her own mind.
Memory lapses and inconsistencies can be typical of trauma, but that’s not Ford’s specific experience. A research psychologist, she even offered a biochemical explanation for how traumatic memories get seared into the brain.
She’s also crystal clear that Kavanaugh, and not “some person in some place at some time,” as he’s suggested, attacked her. She repeatedly referred to “Brett’s attack” or “Brett’s assault,” refusing to claim responsibility for Kavanaugh’s actions by calling it “my attack” and internalizing blame like so many victims do.
The only people who seem confused are senators like Chuck Grassley, who concluded her segment of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by thanking her for trying “to answer our questions as best you can remember.”
“It’s an attack on her mental ability. It’s a very old and standard way to undermine women’s credibility about their own mistreatment,” explains Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a research psychologist at the University of Oregon who studies trauma and institutional betrayal. Freyd remembers watching Professor Anita Hill testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, and observing a pattern of events, amounting to a strategy, repeatedly deployed against women who confront their abusers.
She’s since termed the maneuver DARVO, which stands for Deny Attack Reverse Victim Offender.
The Kavanaugh hearings were like a live-action demonstration of DARVO. Kavanaugh categorically denied the mounting allegations against him. He or his supporters attacked the credibility of his accusers, calling their memories and motives into question.
President Trump expressed sympathy for Kavanaugh, describing the situation as “very unfair,” while Kavanaugh himself sniffde that “if allegations are enough to destroy a person’s career we will have abandoned the principles of due process that define our country.” A little sexual assault shouldn’t get in the way of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, after all.
And so, Kavanaugh became the real victim — not Ford, who has had to move out of her house and retain private security as a result of the death threats she’s received.
DARVO works. Remember that Anita Hill was “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” but Clarence Thomas, the victim of “a high-tech lynching,” earned a promotion to the highest court in the land.
Freyd’s research shows that DARVO serves both to undermine the victim’s own belief in herself and the public’s belief in the victim.
But Ford never once wavered, even as Senate Republicans’ hired prosecutor Rachel Mitchell repeatedly called into question the timing of her disclosure, as if delayed reporting weren’t the norm but evidence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.
Her voice may have cracked, but unlike Kavanaugh, she never once shouted or cried even though she had every reason to. She was perfect. She had to be.