More than a month after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christine Blasey Ford is still getting death threats.
Ford told the committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school in the 1980s. Now, her lawyers said in a statement to NPR on Thursday, “Justice Kavanaugh ascended to the Supreme Court, but the threats to Dr. Ford continue.”
Because of the abuse she’s receiving, Ford has had to move four times. She can’t go to work as a professor at Palo Alto University, and it’s unclear when she’ll be able to return, according to NPR. She needs a private security detail.
Like so much about the hearings and their aftermath, the threats send a message to survivors, especially if they are women: If you speak up, you will be punished. It’s an old message, but one that’s just as powerful in the #MeToo era as it was for years before. The only thing more powerful might be the voices of survivors themselves.
The threats against Ford are about silencing survivors
Brett Kavanaugh has been sitting on the Supreme Court since October 9. On Thursday, the president and first lady were present at his formal investiture ceremony, during which Kavanaugh sat in a special mahogany chair once used by Chief Justice John Marshall. For him, the fight is over; his lifetime appointment to the highest court in the country has begun.
But for Ford, the battle continues. She has been getting threats since she spoke about her experiences to the Washington Post in September.
“I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable,” she said in her Senate testimony. “People have posted my personal information on the internet. This has resulted in additional emails, calls, and threats. My family and I were forced to move out of our home.”
And according to her lawyers, those threats haven’t stopped just because Kavanaugh was confirmed.
Threats like those Ford received — especially those posted publicly online — aren’t just a crime against her. They also serve to keep other survivors quiet. In some ways, they resemble the Gamergate campaigns against women who spoke out about sexism in video games — public harassment directed at those who challenge the established order can be a way of discouraging future challengers and keeping that order in place.
In the case of Gamergate, to some degree, it worked — Brianna Wu, a game developer who was targeted by Gamergate harassers and later ran for Congress, told me in September that many women in the video game industry chose not to speak publicly about Gamergate for fear that their children would be targeted for harassment. Threats like the ones Ford is getting, then, are not only a way of punishing her for the past — they’re also about ensuring the future the threateners want.
The threats are just one way Ford was made to suffer for coming forward with her allegation against Kavanaugh. She had to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing that pitted her against Kavanaugh with no additional witnesses or FBI investigation — and the investigation that followed the hearing was so limited in scope that it was essentially doomed from the beginning. She was mocked by the president in front of an audience of thousands. Before, during, and after the hearing, Senate Republicans essentially erased Ford, spinning her allegations as a plot by Democrats.
Before going public with her allegations, Ford said she asked herself, “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?”
The question has become famous, in part because it was so prescient — in many ways, Ford was annihilated, and in many ways, it didn’t matter.
The threats, the mockery, the way Republicans treated Ford as though she didn’t even exist, the fact that Kavanaugh sits in a mahogany chair at the Supreme Court while Ford can’t even go to work — all send a message to other survivors that if they come forward, they risk being annihilated too.
But there’s one group sending the opposite message — that Christine Ford matters, that she’s not invisible, that she can’t be erased. Survivors and their allies have been sending messages of support to Ford since she first came forward. These messages, she testified in September, outnumbered the threats.
Two GoFundMe campaigns set up during her testimony raised more than $800,000 (some questioned whether the money would be better spent on other, needier survivors, but Ford’s lawyers told NPR that she would donate any money she didn’t use on security and housing to survivors’ organizations). And some supporters sent Ford thank-you notes through her university or her Congress member’s office.
“I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone up there,” writer Elliott Holt, who sent a letter to Ford, told Vox in October. “I didn’t want her to think it was all for naught.”
To some degree, the threats Ford is receiving now are a grisly reminder of how consequential her testimony actually was. It came very close to keeping a powerful man from becoming even more powerful.
If Ford had truly been annihilated, if she’d had no impact, then she might be allowed to fade into obscurity. But those threatening her likely know that, even with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, Ford has set an enduring example to survivors, who stand with her even now.
All those harassing, mocking, and erasing Ford are telling other survivors that speaking up isn’t worth it, that they should keep quiet or risk having their lives destroyed. The only ones sending a different message are the survivors and others who have come forward to support Ford. They are not in the Senate or the Oval Office, and they don’t decide who gets to be on the Supreme Court. But they are the ones with a movement behind them, and they are the ones who are growing in their power.