I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.
– President Trump, 9.21.2018
I believe Dr. Ford because I have lived her pain, and have felt similarly “derailed” by the abuse of another. I understand intrinsically why she did not initially report her assault as a teenager. Conservatives nationwide sneer at her detailed, harrowing account of an attack long ago at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and no less than the president’s own son posted a mocking, fake letter from her on Instagram, with the theme of a woman scorned, a post clearly aimed at exhorting followers nationwide to laugh at the professor.
Others have even gone so far as to accuse her of participating in the nonsensical Pizzagate sex-trafficking conspiracy. Well before other Kavanaugh accusers have come forward, Dr. Ford was accused of the ultimate political dirty trick—retelling her story after many years in the hopes of derailing a nomination, rather than sharing vitally important information with the country pertaining to a lifetime, irrevocable appointment. Her name has been dragged through the mud even though she had apparently told numerous people over the years about the assault, well before Brett Kavanaugh was any sort of a name outside of DC legal circles. I so understand this incredibly accomplished professor, researcher, and psychologist, whose silence puzzles so many, whose accomplishments are so vast, because I feel that I have been her, in multiple ways.
I met “Jay” in the beach resort town where my grandparents lived, where he was stationed as member of a high-level, famous military team. He was a decade older than me and it was impossible for me, at that stage in my life, to not have been taken with him. He was tall, dark, handsome, exuded strength and control, a great storyteller of war events, charismatic—pretty much everything I was looking for, whereas I was still in school, in my doctoral program, and already a single mother. He was highly accomplished as I was still finding my way in the world.
In my twenties’ confusion, I also liked the fact that he was somewhat of a trophy for me, at least in my eyes. I had been the shy, awkward girl in high school, before I blossomed in my twenties to a size-2 blonde. I definitely enjoyed the male attention because I had felt overlooked for so long. Perhaps I enjoyed it too much and focused too heavily on a man’s looks, his occupation, superficial things that validated my self-esteem. In retrospect, I missed telling clues about Jay because I was focused on his stories, his heroism, the excitement of being around him.
In fact, almost everything about Jay would have set off my mid-thirties, College Professor Mom radar, but at the time, I failed to make connections between the “little” things and how they can reveal a latently cruel personality. For our first date, he took me to a very expensive restaurant, especially for a 27-year-old mom. That stood out to me more than how later in the night, it physically hurt when he kissed me, pushing me against my wall and grabbing me hard in areas where I wanted only tenderness. But he was smiling and I thought he was just more experienced in the dating world than me and that some guys were rougher than others.
I similarly failed to pay strong attention to the fact that he was on crutches, and not from just any normal training injury. He claimed to have shot himself accidentally while doing a live ammunition drill to clear a house, something I heard years later was an inaccurate recounting of events. But at the time I felt only sympathy for him as he hobbled around, and gave him even more credit for serving the country. Even his description of his military service should have set off alarms, as he very enthusiastically recounted the actions of the Iraqi security forces towards militants, including the power of a ceiling fan to drive people crazy, as well as other things that I now would consider to be torture.
Jay was clearly in a level of personal turmoil that I utterly missed, as I romanticized and glamorized him and his service. On our third or fourth date, he revealed that because he considered me “precious cargo” in his truck, he owed me complete honesty. He announced that he had just gotten a DUI, sometimes a career-killer in his field, and that he was fighting it in court. He said that if he drank any alcohol, he would need for me to drive. I nodded in assent, told him I’d be happy to, and with all of the self-control that characterized my twenties, proceeded to drink heavily at dinner because the lure of rum was stronger than my powers of resistance.
This then forced him to drive after dinner. I vaguely remember an angry expression on his face, almost clenched teeth, as we arrived at his teammates’ house. Then a challenge to go shot for shot of tequila with them in what was a garage or guest-house area. Just me and three members of his team. I don’t remember anything that happened after a few shots. I don’t remember how we got back to Jay’s house. I don’t remember who called off the contest or how or when it was called. I have no idea how many actual drinks I ended up having. I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t remember taking off my clothes. Nothing.
The next moment I had any conscious awareness must have been hours later. Jay was now behind me, having a type of sex that I never would have agreed to while sober. He was every bit as rough as he had been that night at the restaurant, and then some. But he was doing something different now. There is still no word to describe how I felt internally. Just that someone was doing something extraordinarily knifing, and I couldn’t use the words to get them to stop. No matter how hard I was now trying. The pain was searing, even in my intoxicated state, and while slurring, crying out a “no, stop it” multiple times, I realized that I was in such a condition that I couldn’t even articulate clearly. He continued, as did the pain. He most definitely would have seen me pushing my arms—and though I was not speaking clearly, the sight of me crying, moving my arms to push him, and clearly in agony should have been the signal to him that any “consent” had long since been withdrawn. And that he needed to stop, which he never did.
When I woke up in the morning, I was in physical agony. My head, my body, everything. He gave me something that I assume was a pain pill, I still don’t even know what it was, from his black bag under his bed, and promptly fell back asleep. When he woke up, I remember we watched a Batman movie, on his bracingly-loud TV system. The next day, I received a lecture about what a party girl I was, that I was nowhere near marriage-ready, and he was done. He also informed me that he had gone through my phone while I was sleeping and uncovered texts from guys, and he assumed incorrectly I was dating several people, as opposed to the actual truth that I just enjoyed having platonic guy friends.
When the initial physical pain faded, I spent much of the subsequent decade writing his behavior off to his being in a bad place, possibly suffering from combat PTSD and alcoholism. Excuse after excuse. In my twenties, I missed the clear and obvious conclusion from his gunshot injury coming right on the heels of his DUI, something that I understand in my thirties. But while I strongly believe that PTSD is an under-treated issue for which our veterans deserve only the best care, there is never a full absolution or excuse for sexual assault.
In my twenties, I gave Jay that out. I absolutely internalized that because I had consensually slept with him on dates before and we were on a date this time, during which I drank heavily, what happened could not be considered assault—even though I never consented and having sex with a blacked out person is in its essence pure abuse and exploitation, something I began to accept with the national outcry over the Brock Turner case. Such conduct is even more abusive if she is clearly crying out and moaning and trying to gesture as soon as the pain wakes her up.
#MeToo has allowed me to re-examine the entire experience, with both the benefit of age and wisdom from listening to the brave stories of others. My re-analysis of the evening does not come from a place of malice. In fact, I hold no ill will at all towards Jay and I do hope that he finds peace and happiness. But it is also important to me, and indeed helps me to find peace, to verbalize that I consider what he did that night to be an assault, regardless of what he thinks. That consent was never given, and that I view the entire course of events after I passed out as his punishment to me for drinking, for making him drive, for having guy friends in my phone whom he found when he invaded my privacy as he would invade my soul a few minutes later. As much as he just disposed of me, there is a searing importance that I not similarly dismiss what he did to me, especially as I approach my late thirties.
While Dr. Ford’s life and accomplishments overwhelm me, even as a fellow holder of a doctorate and as an accomplished woman in my own right, I understand why she did not report the incident originally and instead only spoke to a trusted, select circle about this. The horrific little details that she remembers, dismissed by others as a fabricated story, feel achingly familiar to me. I still remember the image of Jay’s bed and how it was oddly on a diagonal in his room. Watching Batman on his surround-sound TV/stereo system and how the room vibrated. How he pronounced certain words with his Midwestern accent. It can take years for one to even accept that what happened is assault. I know it did for me, even though I was unconscious at the time of the encounter. The social prominence of the abuser can similarly be overwhelming to someone who is simply still trying to process the experience itself. I was a 27-year-old single mother who had a clear issue with periodic binge-drinking. Who would have believed me over a national hero?
Jay had stories of meeting Britney Spears in a club in Vegas and charming Laura Bush when he met her. The power imbalance between us—age, occupation, confidence– was overwhelming. If I had even accepted at the time how wrong his actions were, which I didn’t for many years, I doubtless would have been painted as the ex with the axe to grind: unstable, promiscuous, all of the slurs that are now being directed against Dr. Ford. The prospect of the slings and arrows of others are even more overwhelming when one is still herself healing from a wound that will never entirely go away.
Just as Jay attempted to use and discard me, #MeToo shows that the shadow of that type of behavior looms large. Even someone as powerful as Judge Kavanaugh or a vaunted military hero cannot obscure the almost primal cry for truth that emerges in the midst of injustice and pain. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, and President Obama repeated many times, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Only with pure honesty can that healing happen. I believe Dr. Ford is attempting to speak in total truth and integrity, and that in our response to her truth, our national soul hangs in the balance.
Dr. Laura Elizabeth completed her undergraduate coursework at Duke University in 2003 and Master’s and Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Public Policy and Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2005 and 2014, respectively. She teaches Public Policy and Criminal Justice at South University and is a researcher at American Journal Experts. Her research focuses on domestic violence interventions within the criminal justice system, particularly in the area of probation and community corrections, juvenile justice, and women’s issues.