Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh matter. People need to discuss it, and we need to try to do so as independently of political considerations as possible.
For those who don’t know, Christine Ford alleges that Brett Kavanaugh, and his friend Mark Judge, ran into her at a party in someone’s house, sometime in the early 80s (she thinks it might have been 1982). She does not remember where the party was, who else might have been present (she says there were a total of four boys at the party, leaving two not involved in the alleged assault), or many other important details. According to Ford, however, Kavanaugh and Judge, while stumbling-drunk, corralled her into a bedroom. Kavanaugh then allegedly pushed her onto the bed, climbed on top of her, and both groped her, and ground his genitals on her, while clumsily trying to remove her clothing (and a swimsuit she had on underneath). Ford says she tried to scream, but that Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. Mark Judge then jumped on top of them, and everyone tumbled onto the floor, allowing Ms. Ford to escape. Ms. Ford says she locked herself into a bathroom for a few minutes, and then abruptly left the party. In addition to not remembering where or when the party was, she does not remember how she got to the party, or how she got home.
There is a temptation to discuss whether or not we should believe Christine Ford. Frankly, I think we should believe that something happened, and particularly given that Ms. Ford passed a polygraph.
I know from first hand experience that memories of decades-old assaults can be fragmented, with some details as clear as if they occurred yesterday, and other details either unclear, or lost. I too, in fact, was sexually assaulted as a teenager, and very possibly in the same summer that it happened to Christine Ford. Since what happened to me was also around 35 years ago, I’m not going to name anyone involved, but I will relay what happened to me as first-hand evidence for what memories of traumatic events are like after such a long period of time.
I was out with my best friend. We were a somewhat rowdy pair, living in a housing complex surrounded by a golf course, and by large, open fields, and we grew up primarily in those fields. We used to shoot golfers with BB guns, and watch them slice into the wild blue yonder as a result (we determined exactly how much pressure to use by repeatedly shooting each other in the stomach until we knew just how much was enough to sting, but not enough to break the skin). We also used to tear down tree forts older kids used to do drugs, used to race our bikes furiously along all the trails in the fields, and used to go searching for snakes under discarded boards. We climbed trees, and ran around like crazed children. As I said – we grew up in those fields.
When I was in middle school (I’m going to guess I was 12, but like Ms. Ford, I don’t remember for sure), my friend and I were in the field behind Driftwood Avenue (in Oshtemo Township, Michigan) when an older boy, whom we knew could at times be a bit of a bully, showed up. This particular field had a line of trees in it, and one of the trees had boards nailed around it as if someone who knew nothing about building tree forts had tried to build one. It was a pretty big tree, and we were climbing it when the older boy showed up. He had a ton of candy he said he’d stolen from Zale’s (a department store in the West Main Mall at the time), and he wanted to share the candy with us. We ate some of the candy, and the older boy offered to let us take large quantities home with us – something we were not willing to do (though we were perfectly happy to munch on stolen candy while under that tree). The older kid also had some Playboy, Penthouse, and/or Hustler magazines (which we presumed he’d also stolen). My friend and I were just old enough to be curious about what naked women looked like, so we thumbed through the magazines with interest.
After a while, the older kid said we owed him a blow job. Young though we were, we knew what a blow job was, and we had no interest. The older boy then started trying to force me to give him a blowjob, while I did everything I could to resist. I think I said I’d bite, and he said something about what he’d do to me if I did, but frankly, that detail is very foggy. I’m sure I was screaming all kinds of things and being told what would happen if I did not give in.
Thankfully, my friend started hitting and kicking the older kid, and then I was able to do the same. We were afraid of what would happen if the older boy got up, so we hit and kicked him relentlessly – we might have even hit him with sticks (that too is foggy). Only when we were absolutely sure the older boy was no longer a threat, did we run away, leaving the older boy under that tree, beaten as badly as two boys that age can beat someone. I remember being afraid that we might have killed him, and then being relieved when, a couple of days later, I saw him in the neighborhood, notably bruised, but not severely.
I seem to remember the older boy making threats a few times after that, but always from a distance. From then on he generally left us alone, and I have thought very little about the incident in the decades since. Over the past couple of days, more details have emerged, but while with some details my memory seems reasonably clear, others are foggy.
I have two older sisters, and sometimes when we discuss childhood events, their memories are very different than mine, to the point of mine being, essentially, wrong. This seems to be the nature of the beast for the youngest child, as we see events through younger eyes than do our siblings, and have vaguer memories as a result. There are incidents I remember as clearly as the incident with the older boy in the field, but where my older siblings will say, “That’s not really how that happened,” and I’ll be dumbfounded that I could be wrong. Such is the combination of youth and memory, after a great deal of time has passed.
My memory, today, is not clear enough to act on. I know the names of the people involved, and I would be able to walk right back to the exact location where it happened, even though it is no longer an open field. At the same time, I don’t think anyone could call me a reliable witness. Holding someone accountable, today, would be a travesty of justice.
The kid who assaulted me deserved justice, and though part of me feels like my friend and I gave him some when we beat him, another part realizes that he needed more, both because attempted rape is wrong, and because he may have needed intervention in his own life, which he would likely have received had I told someone. I said nothing, so nothing ever happened, and I have to assume that if he continued to sexually assault people, or committed other crimes, our criminal justice system would have eventually caught up with him: it’s far too late to hold him accountable for what he did to me.
Let’s assume for a moment that Christine Ford is telling the complete, most accurate account of what happened, that she possibly can. She says she thinks she was fifteen, so she was about three years older than I was when I was assaulted. Her memory is likely a little better than mine as a result, and though she cannot remember the date or location, I’ll bet she knows exactly where in that house the bedroom in question was located. Still, I have to think that her memory of the event is somewhat foggy, and as a result, her trying to derail Judge Kavanaugh’s career thirty five years after the event, based on memories that are not reliable, is a travesty of justice.
Christine Ford has not said she knew Brett Kavanaugh prior to being assaulted, and her story implies that she did not. Is it possible that her entire story is true, but that it was not Brett Kavanaugh? She might honestly think it was Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, and might be honestly wrong. Maybe the party took place, and Kavanaugh and Judge were there, but the other two boys assaulted her. I’m not confident enough about my memories from my assault to want to see anyone held accountable, and nor should she be confident enough in her memories to want to see someone held accountable. What happened was too long ago to have anywhere near enough certainty to act upon, and that’s the bottom line.
Ms. Ford might also be politically motivated, and we should always be skeptical of allegations that are brought up at politically convenient moments.
Brett Kavanaugh should have been held accountable in the early 80s, if he were in fact guilty, but we cannot possible hold him accountable now. Too much doubt exists. We have to assume that if Brett Kavanaugh really were as bad of a person as Christine Ford is spelling him out as, justice would eventually have caught up with him based on other things. I know of no other things… Throw in the political motivations that may have distorted Christine Ford’s memories, and we have no choice but to continue the confirmation process as if nothing had happened. Anything else would be a travesty of justice.
Do I believe Christine Ford was sexually assaulted? Yes. Do I believe her story? Yes, but I’m not convinced that Brett Kavanaugh was the person who assaulted her, and nor am I any more convinced that she remembers her story accurately enough to act on, than I am confident I remember my own story well enough for it to be acted on. Even today, I tell my story only because it is relevant, and I do so without revealing anyone else’s identity.
We have statutes of limitations because, after a certain amount of time, reasonable doubt exists. Over more time, the level of doubt grows. Christine Ford deserves our sympathy and support, but nobody can hold Brett Kavanaugh accountable 35 years after the fact, when he denies any involvement, and when the accuracy Christine Ford’s memory is suspect. We cannot give up actual justice in the search for absolutism, and as such, Brett Kavanaugh should still be confirmed.