I’ve spent a lot of time in 2018 thinking about the old saying that courage isn’t the absence of fear. Instead, courage is the ability to act despite our fear. And when I think of that quote, I think of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Dr. Ford is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. She was thrown into the public eye in September 2018 when she came forward with her experience of sexual violence, alleging that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982, when they were both teenagers.
Dr. Ford addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018, putting Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court at risk and delaying confirmation proceedings. She struggled with her decision to come forward, knowing that she would have to lay bare her deeply personal trauma under intense and hyper-public scrutiny—and that her alleged assaulter would likely still be appointed to a position of immense power and influence. But in an act of courage that I find deeply inspiring, she did it anyway.
“I am here today not because I want to be,” Dr. Ford said in her opening statement to the Committee, “I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty.”
In the year following the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen significant backlash directed at those individuals who were brave enough to speak up publicly. Survivors are still too often met with disbelief, attacks on their character, and professional—or even legal—repercussions. Although we have seen some signs that survivors’ voices are finally being heard and that we’re slowly moving towards a safer and more equitable society in the form of criminal convictions, the overdue development of workplace harassment policies and ongoing protests, the fact remains that the current President of the United States’s election campaign was not harmed by a tape of him bragging about his blatant disregard for the concept of consent. In Canada, as recently as 2017, police dismissed one in five sexual assault claims as baseless. And on October 6, 2018, the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. He was sworn in to the Supreme Court at a private ceremony later that day.
Dr. Ford knew that there were no guarantees of justice. Dr. Ford knew that coming forward would be incredibly painful for herself and for her family. Dr. Ford was terrified of the consequences of coming forward, and has been unable to return to her job or her home because of the death threats and harassment she continues to face.
Something else I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in 2018 is the simple fact that the world isn’t fair. The institutions which are supposed to protect women and survivors of sexual violence too often fail us. As a survivor of sexual violence myself, I know that I cannot count on the police or the legal system to protect me, and the weight of that injustice is difficult to bear. It would be easy to give up trying to protect other women and survivors. I am tired and, yes, at times, I am terrified.
But I won’t give up. I can’t.
On December 11, Dr. Ford made her first public statement since the hearings, presenting the Sports Illustrated Inspiration of the Year Award to Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. (More than 300 women in total have since said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, who was sentenced to over 100 years in prison last January.)
“The lasting lesson,” Dr. Ford said, “is that we all have the power to create real change and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others.”
Like Denhollander, Dr. Ford somehow found the unimaginable courage to do what she felt was right under the most difficult circumstances possible, and in doing so, inspired me to never stop fighting for a safer and more equitable world.
Thank you, Dr. Ford. You didn’t have to come forward, and you didn’t have to speak up. But you did, and in doing so you stood up for every single ashamed and scared teenage girl; for every single survivor of sexual violence. You used your courage and your strength to fight for all of us. Now it’s our turn to keep up the fight for you.