Chrissy and Me and Sexual Assault

Like millions of others yesterday, I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of the senate judiciary committee. Like Anita Hill years before, Ford was there to share what she knew about a powerful man poised to take an even more powerful office.

Ford was 100% certain she had been assaulted as a teenager, but was unsure about many other seemingly important facts, such as the date and place of the attack. Her inability to provide this information, along with her 36 year delay in making the assault public, has caused many to doubt her claim.

A recent New York Post story is typical of the criticisms leveled at Ford and her faulty memory. “Ford still can’t recall basic details of what she says was the most traumatic event in her life,” the article trumpets. How can Ford be believed, it goes on to insinuate, when she "concedes she told no one what happened to her at the time, not even her best friend or mother”?

Ford’s recounting of her experiences forced me to examine my own from roughly the same time period, when she and I were roughly the same age. Other than both being female, the two of us had little in common. Ford was blond; I fantasized about blondness. Ford lived in a swanky D.C. suburb where she attended a private prep school and was at home in country clubs. I was an immigrant from Vietnam who went to public school in Tennessee and for whom country clubs were exotic places mentioned  on TV. According to her high school friends, “Chrissy” was popular, athletic, and universally well-liked. I was none of those things.

And yet Ford and I share something profound: We both survived sexual assault. I am not surprised that Ford is sketchy on many details of her attack, because huge parts of my recollection are hazy too. Like her, I place that my assault in or around 1982, though I’m unsure of the exact location. Like her, I thought I was going to be raped but managed to escape. Like her, I told no one. Not the best friend I confided my hopes and dreams and fears and worries to, and certainly not my mother.

In many ways, Ford remembers much more than I can. While Ford is able to name some of the people who were at the gathering where her assault took place, I can't remember anyone specifically at my location. Nor do I recall, if I ever knew it, the name of my attacker.

But the details I do remember I will never be able to forget.

What do I know? I know I was in college. I know it was at a frat party. (The first and last frat party I ever attended). I know my attacker told me he was from out of town and not a student at my school. I know when the party was winding down I went with him to his vehicle. But my keenest, clearest, without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt memories are these: His hand between my legs. My hand desperately trying to stop him. And the frightening expression in his eyes when he looked at me and said, slowly and threateningly, “Let go of my wrist.” It wasn’t a request.

I doubt the young man even remembers our encounter. For one thing, he was extremely drunk and we never saw each other again. And secondly, what was there to remember? It was “no big deal” because “nothing happened.” At least that’s how I’ve thought of it all these years. I wasn’t raped. I got away. In the world I grew up in, that makes it a non-event.

It took listening to Christine Blasey Ford to teach me that something did happen that night. Something criminal, isolating and silencing. The proof isn’t in a police report or in any eye witness accounts. It's not recorded on a calendar; it will never substantiated by a confession. The proof is in me. The me who has forgotten the details but remembers the trauma. The me who through pure luck got out of that vehicle and stumbled through the darkness back to my dorm and never told a soul. Until now.


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