The testimony gripping America: “I am here not because I want to be. I am terrified”

Dr. Ford, a psychologist specialising in trauma, went before the Senate in the confirmation hearings for Trump’s second Supreme Court justice.

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In what quickly became a stunning moment for American history, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, the first of several women to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning.

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty,” Ford said, her voice cracking a little, opening her testimony after being sworn in by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican senator Chuck Grassley.

Telling her story, Ford said that girls from her all-girl school often met and became friends with boys from schools including Kavanaugh’s, Georgetown Prep. “That's how I met Brett Kavanaugh, the boy who sexually assaulted me,” she said.

Then she detailed the alleged assault, in harrowing terms, which she says took place at a high school party. Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, were “visibly intoxicated,” she said. “Early in the evening, I went up a narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the bathroom. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom.”

“I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me,” she continued. “Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me.”

In a voice that often became croaky with emotion, Ford said that she “tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett 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.” When she saw his name on the list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, she said, she felt it was her “civic duty” to raise her concerns. She has symptoms of PTSD, she told the committee. In one particularly memorable detail, she mentioned that the fear she still feels from the alleged assault has caused her to need a second front door on her house in order to feel secure.

Kavanaugh, who will also testify, has denied all allegations, and described them as a smear campaign

The format was bizarre, and led to a slightly surreal and tense atmosphere. Ford, who is a psychologist specialising in trauma, was cross-examined not by the Republican senators on the committee, but an outside attorney, Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor who specialises in sex crimes. It was half-trial, and half political grandstanding, as the cross-examination by Mitchell was interrupted at five-minute intervals by the Democratic senators on the committee who used their allotted time to demonstrate their support for Ford. 

Ford was, in many ways, a nightmare witness for the committee, not just because of her obvious courage and that she seemed just, well, nice, but also because of her expertise. That meant that Mitchell was dealing not just with a sympathetic victim on the stand, but also an assured expert witness as well, leading to situations where she was explaining the chemical processes in the brain when it lays down memories of trauma to the panel.

That meant Mitchell’s job was practically impossible. She could not find any way to undermine the credibility of her witness, and any time she tried only made the Republicans look more callous to victims of sexual assault. Ultimately, as many pointed out on Twitter, this was not supposed to be a trial, but a job interview: thus, questions of whether Kavanaugh should be considered innocent until proven guilty are beside the point. Republicans want to rush through his nomination for one reason only: they are worried that they might lose control of the Senate in November's midterm elections, and so this may be their last chance to pack a doctrinaire conservative onto the court.

“With what percentage certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted you,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin asked at one point. “One hundred per cent,” Ford replied. That will likely be the most memorable moment for those who watched the hearing, which became an enormous media spectacle from which America, and even the world, could not tear their eyes.

Ford’s testimony will continue this afternoon, but in a spectacle as widely gripping as this, that’s likely to be the main takeaway. The next question, which will be answered later today when he testifies and tries to answer Ford’s allegations, is how Kavanaugh will fare in the glare of the same spotlight.

Nicky Woolf is the editor of New Statesman America. He has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.