Editor’s Note: This story comes with a trigger warning for graphic depictions of sexual violence.
In Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, she alleged that, 36 years ago, Judge Brett Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth as he climbed on top of her and tried to pull off her clothing. “I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help,” she said. “When I did, Brett [Kavanaugh] put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. This was what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.”
More than three decades later, the terror of that moment was clear in Ford’s voice, and I know exactly why she remembers it as clearly as she does. I was raped by a man who also put his hand over my mouth to stifle my screams. At first, I couldn’t breathe. With each thrust, his hand pushed down harder on my face, fingers digging into my cheeks; my neck twisted as I tried to fight and catch my breath. How easy it would be for him to snap my neck, I thought as his weight rested on me, pushing my gasping face down as he worked himself to climax. I thought I was going to die. That night, he taught me that I wasn’t human. I was a piece of meat, a living sex doll. You don’t forget a lesson like that.
The man was my boyfriend. I didn’t report him to the police or tell anyone about the assault because I was afraid he’d kill me. But once he got away with that transgression, he felt entitled to get away with a whole lot more, as my body can still testify to, years later. He never put his hand over my mouth again. He didn’t have to. He planted that seed of terror to teach me compliance. His hand over my mouth told me that I wasn’t human, and that my voice didn’t matter, so I didn’t tell anyone for years, and he went on to hurt other women. I don’t recall every time he raped me, but I do remember that single time his hand covered my mouth. I was 19 at the time. I’ll be 40 in April, and I’ve never forgotten.
Christine Blasey Ford’s story makes clear that her experience was an attempted rape rather than a completed one but Kavanaugh’s hand on her face, muffling her screams, might be why she so vividly remembers the details of the assault. Covering a person’s mouth during an assault is a calculated, monstrous, and evil act of silencing—a clear acknowledgement of wrongdoing. A 2014 report by the U.S. Sentencing Committee suggested that non-consensually choking and/or strangling a partner is an early warning sign for more violent crimes against women, including murder. But it took Ford publicly telling her story for me to realize why I place my hand on my throat when I’m stressed out or uncomfortable.
It’s the same reason Ford insisted on having two front doors at her house: Once upon a time, a person assaulted and covered our mouths, and we believed we were going to die. During my rape, the hand over my mouth was physical; afterward, it became invisible. I’m fighting against it even now, and so is Ford. Once Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was complete, Kavanaugh took his place in front of the committee to belligerently rail against those who are “smearing [his] good name” with allegations that he categorically denies. As he toggled between irate shouting and crocodile tears, Kavanaugh played the victim with chilling ease, a mounting series of easily disprovable lies swarming from his mouth like wasps.
He claimed that “Devil’s Triangle” refers to a drinking game; that the word “boof” was another name for flatulence; that his yearbook-page identification as a “Renate Alumnius” was a perfectly innocent reference to a women Kavanaugh claimed “was one of us”; that his membership in something called “Beach Week Ralph Club” was about having a weak stomach. None of these things are true; each was a lie of a cold and calculating man who will say and do whatever he needs to in order to get what he wants.
The open contempt with which Kavanaugh spoke to the female members of the committee (as well as to sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell), also points to the kind of ingrained misogyny that often leads to violence against women. Survivors live in a different kind of arrested development than the men who preyed on us. For some, it manifests in our voices, our inability or hesitation to vocalize. As she was questioned at the hearing, Ford was soft spoken and accommodating, often apologizing for not knowing the answer or having needs of her own; unlike Kavanaugh, she answered every single question she was asked. That’s the compliance I was talking about earlier.
I have no problem using my voice now, but I’m still unable to accept any kind of physical contact that I didn’t initiate without gasping and full-body flinching. These are the lifelong and toxic gifts of just one incident of sexual violence that included a hand over my mouth. Even if the Senate believes the allegations against Kavanaugh are credible, the hearings suggested that a woman’s lasting, indelible pain just isn’t important enough to keep him from a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
The White House’s agreement to a brief—and strategically limited—FBI investigation gives away the game: “Plow[ing] him through is the objective, and dismissal of his accusers is the method.” I believe Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, and the misogyny and anger on display in Kavanaugh’s testimony makes me believe even more. Believe me. Believe women. Believe survivors. It’s the least we can do. Those who cannot manage this smallest act of faith in our experiences are as much a part of the problem as Kavanaugh and those who have enabled his lies, then and now.