A reluctant witness: Christine Blasey Ford finds herself at the center of America’s #MeToo reckoning

Posted at 4:08 AM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 08:32:03-04

There is little in Christine Blasey Ford’s background that prepared her for this moment.

In high school she was a bright, funny teen navigating the hard-partying private school circuit who went on to her pursuit of an insular career as a West Coast academic. She is now a central figure in America’s reckoning with sexual assault.

Ford long tried to remain anonymous, not wishing her story about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to become public and forever alter her life. But as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to move forward and the media closed in around her, Ford stepped forward.

On Thursday, she will come before the committee — a reluctant witness in an unexpected drama with consequences that could reverberate for generations. She will testify that Kavanaugh physically and sexually assaulted her when they both attended private schools in a tony suburb outside Washington.

Like Anita Hill in 1991, Ford will tell her story to an all-male panel of Republican senators. They are taking pains to avoid the clumsy, awkward questioning of 1991 — which became a galvanizing force for female voters the following year. This time the GOP has hired a female outside counsel to question Ford.

Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, is facing a panel of Republican lawmakers who are deeply skeptical of her allegation that Kavanaugh steered her into an upstairs bedroom in the early 1980s and physically and sexually assaulted her while his friend watched at a party in the DC suburbs.

The GOP panel has refused the request of Ford’s attorneys to allow two trauma experts and the person who administered her polygraph about the incident to testify.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor Monday, accusing Senate Democrats and their allies of “trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations.”

Ford faces doubters not only in the Senate but also at the White House.

After initially insisting that he wanted to hear her story, President Donald Trump questioned Ford’s credibility: “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says charges would have been immediately filed by either her or her loving parents.”

As Kavanaugh prepared to testify this week, Trump called him to reassure him that he was sticking by him. The President suggested that another woman who accused Kavanaugh of inappropriate sexual behavior at Yale, Deborah Ramirez, was mistaken in her recollection. (CNN has not independently confirmed Ramirez’s story.)

Trump also affirmed his belief in Kavanaugh’s account on Tuesday: “He’s one of the highest quality people,” Trump told reporters. “You know when he said that really he was focused on trying to be number one in his class at Yale, to me that was so believable. I understand college very well, I understand being number one in your class and I understand a lot of things. When he said that, I understood exactly what — he was so truthful, and I thought that came out.”

Kavanaugh, for his part, says the incident with Ford never occurred and that he is eager to defend his integrity and clear his name. “I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever,” he said in a Fox interview Monday night, adding that Ford was “not a friend, she was not someone I knew.”

The private school party scene

Ford grew up in the privileged circles of Washington’s ‘work hard-play hard’ private school scene. She attended the all-girls Holton Arms School in Maryland and spent leisure hours by the pool at Columbia Country Club.

In that world of stately homes and expensive cars, alcohol was plentiful and easily obtained. There were parties every weekend where boys and girls from a half-dozen single-sex high schools mingled during drinking games like beer pong and rounds of truth or dare.

Fake IDs were easy to get, often passed down by the older girls for trips to Georgetown bars like Champs and Third Edition. In the summer, to the dismay of their headmasters and headmistresses, kids from all of the local private schools rented houses in Rehoboth and Bethany Beach for “Beach Week.”

Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford has said was present during the alleged attack in 1982, chronicled the drinking scene at Georgetown Preparatory School, the high school he attended with Kavanaugh, in a book that he wrote touching on his own struggle with alcoholism. (Judge wrote a letter to members of the judiciary committee stating that he does not recall an incident involving Kavanaugh and Ford. He has not been called to testify, despite the requests of Democratic senators).

“Prep was a school positively swimming in alcohol, and my class partied with gusto,” Judge wrote in “God and Man at Georgetown Prep.”

Judge described a 100-keg quest, a challenge that he and his friends created to drink one hundred kegs of beer by the end of their senior year. On his yearbook page, Kavanaugh said he was treasurer of the “Keg City Club –100 Kegs or Bust.,” and a member of the “Beach Week Ralph Club.”

Judge also wrote about a bachelor party that he and friends threw for their teacher: a keg of beer and a stripper was the entertainment for the high school students. A “pictorial essay” of the incident was printed in a student-published paper called the Unknown Hoya.

On Kavanaugh’s 1983 yearbook page, he chose a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows, nor JUDGE all he sees.”

‘I’d put money on her any time’

For her page in her Holton Arms high school yearbook, Christine “Chrissy” Blasey is photographed half-smiling in a white sundress, with a thin gold chain around her neck, and a feathered hair style with thick bangs reminiscent of Princess Diana (who had married Prince Charles just a few years earlier).

In a note to her family as she prepared to leave for college, she chose lines from Elton John’s “Your Song.” There is also a quote from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “Gasping at glimpses of gentle, true spirit; He runs, wishing he could fly; Only to trip at the sound of goodbye.”

It was two years after the 1982 incident when, as she recounted to the Washington Post, Kavanaugh assaulted her while he and Judge were “stumbling drunk.” While Kavanaugh allegedly groped her and tried to remove her clothing, Ford said Judge jumped on top of them allowing her to escape.

Two quotes from American songwriter Stephen Stills on Ford’s 1984 yearbook page speak to her youthful search for resilience as she set out from home. One: “Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad. And don’t sit cryin’ over good times had.” The other: “Go your way, I’ll go mine and carry on.”

Ford’s Holton Arms classmates remember her as bright, friendly and kind, a cheerleader and member of the school’s swim and dive team.

Classmate Samantha Semerad Guerry, who met Ford when she began attending the school in the 7th grade, described Ford in high school as someone who was “constantly cheerful” and “got along with everyone.”

“I would be surprised to hear if anybody had anything bad to say about Chrissy,” Semerad Guerry said.

Another friend Lisa Shapiro said she had “every reason to believe what she recounts is true, and no reason to doubt her.”

“Chrissy, as I knew her then, had a sharp wit, and was energetic, friendly, and fundamentally kind,” Shapiro said in an email to CNN.

For much of Ford’s life, she kept the alleged attack as her own dark secret. She has told senators she did not tell anyone about the incident until 2012 when it came up in couples’ therapy with her husband, Russell Ford.

But it clearly guided some of her research and her interests as a psychologist. In technical, scientific papers, she has written about the effects of trauma on young women.

Jack Caussin, who taught Christine Blasey Ford at Holton-Arms her senior year of high school, said it has been painful to learn that a student he fondly remembered as being bright and funny — a “good kid” through and through, who was quiet at times — had allegedly experienced such devastating trauma.

But he was also not surprised by her description of the incident.

In his years a teacher, Caussin, now 84, said he kept a close eye on how notably the dynamics shifted for the female students whenever boys entered the room. He also chaperoned several Holton-Arms dances to which boys were invited.

“They’ve got to strut their stuff and be macho. I just didn’t like the way a lot of them acted towards those girls. Maybe I was being over-protective,” he recalled. “You had to have them thrown out of there sometimes they were so gross and everything.”

Caussin, who has been described as Ford’s favorite teacher, said she stayed in touch with him over the years.

Looking back, he is struck by the fact that she shared with him work that she and her students were doing on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. A veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, Caussin said he himself did not suffer from PTSD.

Now, he says he isn’t sure whether Ford may have wanted to discuss the topic of trauma with him because of her own experience in high school that haunted her into adulthood — and if her research was in any way related to her own desire to better understand trauma.

Caussin said he had no trouble believing Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh.

“I respect the heck out of her and I always did. I’d put money on her any time,” he said. “She’s a good person.”

Several of Ford’s friends told CNN that trauma affected her in unexpected ways.

Kate DeVarney said in an interview that over the course of their friendship of 13 years, she discovered that Ford “really has a hard time being in a place where there’s no escape route.”

She was, for example, uncomfortable flying, DeVarney said, because an airplane is “the ultimate closed space where you cannot get away.”

Late last month, Ford confided in DeVarney for the first time about being sexually assaulted in high school. But she did not share Kavanaugh’s name or other details about his identity, DeVarney said. Ford told her about a letter she had sent to her congresswoman about the alleged assault.

In that conversation, DeVarney said Ford also told her about how when Ford and her husband were remodeling their home, “she insisted that every room had to have an exit door to the outside.”

“She did say this has affected me my entire life,” DeVarney said.

Another friend, Jim Gensheimer, said in a statement that the incident was “serious enough to have a lasting impact on her life.”

Gensheimer said Ford told him she needs to have “more than one exit door in her bedroom to prevent her from being trapped.”

Members of the Holton Arms class of 1984 also sent a letter to Congress “to attest to her honesty, integrity, and intelligence; and to contend that her decision to provide information pertaining to a sexual assault is not a partisan act.”

Semerad Guerry said the idea to write a letter affirming their belief in Ford’s story developed over a class of 1984 alumnae chain.

In recent days, Ford has emailed friends on a Holton Arms’ email chain thanking them for their support and apologizing for any collateral damage, according to a source familiar with the email.

Classmates, alumnae and neighbors have held vigils for Ford outside the White House and spoken at press conferences on Capitol Hill. They are expected to show up in force to support her at the hearing on Thursday.

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the makeup of Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.