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Christine Blasey Ford shows the lengths women have to go to be believed

Critics say she has no evidence. She gathered her own.

A note written to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on stationary in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s room on Capitol Hill, on September 26, 2018.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

When Christine Blasey Ford came forward with sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the attacks on her credibility began almost immediately.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Sunday said that the allegations that have come out are “not credible without evidence.” Kavanaugh himself pointed to a lack of corroboration as a key reason the allegations shouldn’t be trusted during a Monday interview on Fox News. “No corroboration. No supporting evidence before us. Just Dr. Ford’s allegation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said plainly as he sought to dismiss the allegations on Wednesday.

Similar attacks have been levied against Deborah Ramirez, who’s accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her in college, and Julie Swetnick, who’s alleged that Kavanaugh was involved in enabling a pattern of sexual assault and “gang rapes” in high school.

While none of these women have presented an open-and-shut case that would be sure to convince a jury in a criminal case, all three have offered corroborating evidence to support their claims — from old therapist notes to friends and classmates who confirmed that they heard about the allegations to witnesses who could verify their stories.

Even though it might seem that powerful men are falling left and right amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the #MeToo era, women are held to a very high standard when they make their claims. They have to go to great lengths to validate the allegations themselves. And they have to offer far more than just their word.

Democrats have urged the FBI to investigate all three women’s claims, a request Republicans have rejected. While Kavanaugh supporters complain there is no evidence, they also aren’t keen to look too closely at what the accusers have provided or to dig any further.

Ford’s evidence

As detailed in an interview with the Washington Post two weeks ago, Ford took painstaking steps to be as prepared as possible before she went public with her claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her one night when they were in high school. Her efforts show the lengths that many women have had to go to prove they are even worthy of being believed.

According to the Post, Ford gathered multiple pieces of evidence in order to substantiate her account:

  • Ford says she did not talk about the allegations with anyone until 2012, during a couples therapy session with her husband. She provided the Post with notes from therapy sessions in 2012 and 2013 when she described a sexual assault that she experienced while she was in high school.
  • In these notes Kavanaugh is not named, but Ford describes an attack by students from an elite boy’s school. These students are now “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington,” she said.
  • Ford also took a polygraph test, which indicated the veracity of her claims. (It’s worth noting that the reliability of polygraph tests has been heavily scrutinized in recent years.)
  • Ford’s husband confirms, too, that she mentioned the attack in their 2012 therapy sessions. He said he recalled her mentioning Kavanaugh by last name.
  • Friends of Ford’s have said she’s spoken about the attack and note that they’ve witnessed the lasting impact it’s had on her life. Jim Gensheimer told the Los Angeles Times that Ford discussed her struggle to come forward with him in early July and added that Ford was averse to purchasing a master bedroom that does not have a second exit. “Obviously, something happened that traumatized her so much that she’s afraid of being trapped,” Gensheimer said.
  • On Wednesday, Ford entered four sworn statements into the record from her husband and three close friends, which show that she’s been telling the same story for years.

Ford had anticipated all the skepticism that would come her way, her friends add. According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, she was “searching her memory for anyone, anything, that could validate her story.”

“I’ve been trying to forget this all my life and now I’m supposed to remember every little detail,” Gensheimer recalled her saying.

Kavanaugh’s case

In response to all three allegations, Kavanaugh has repeatedly said he didn’t do it, and most Republicans seem content to leave it at that. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes, it’s a strategy that’s right out of President Trump’s own playbook for dealing with sexual misconduct; outright denying the allegations is a key aspect of his approach.

Trump has said he believes in Kavanaugh’s nomination. “Very hard for me to imagine that anything happened,” he noted in a press appearance last week. On Friday, the president tweeted a statement probing why Ford didn’t report the claims to law enforcement immediately, in an attempt to cast doubt on her credibility.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” Kavanaugh said when first confronted with Ford’s story. He’s since called the additional allegations that have emerged a “smear campaign, plain and simple.”

Among the other evidence he’s bringing to the table, Kavanaugh is now citing a calendar he kept, which purportedly indicates that he did not attend the party that Ford describes.

Kavanaugh’s witnesses, meanwhile, have broadly been accepted a face value

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh supporters readily believe other witnesses who are implicated in Ford’s allegations — even as they question her own memories of the event.

  • Mark Judge, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s whom Ford has also implicated in the assault, has said he has no “recollection” of the incident. He’s also said that he’s never seen Kavanaugh behave this way and signaled that he’s not interested in testifying further. This appears to be enough to verify Kavanaugh’s version of events. Democrats have pushed for Republicans to subpoena Judge, a move they’ve resisted.
  • Patrick Smyth, a third male classmate who was allegedly at the party, has also issued his own denial and said he was not at the party in question. Both Judge and Smyth have signaled that they aren’t interested in providing further testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Leland Keyser, a fourth person said to be at the party, has also said she doesn’t remember attending.

There are several aspects of all the incidents that make it tougher to ask more pointed questions and elicit specific alibis. Because they took place decades ago, there are details around timing and location that are vague. The muddled nature of these specifics could make it tougher to press Kavanaugh directly.

So far, however, he’s seemingly been precluded from facing any in-depth questions at all. That could all change on Thursday, when Democrats will be able to ask him about this incident under oath.

It’s a pattern women have experienced again and again when they accuse men of sexual misconduct

In the era of #MeToo, women have seen just how much it takes to have any kind of allegations taken seriously.

When Colbie Holderness, an ex-wife of then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, accused him of emotional and physical abuse, she had photos documenting an incident when he punched her in the face, as well as the corroboration of her brother and a friend — both of whom said that she had confided in them. In the face of all this, Porter simply denied the allegations.

When Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, levied allegations of sexual harassment against her supervisor, she had detailed screenshots chronicling his behavior. She also had an ongoing email chain with human resources to document a broader system of sexism at the company. “Every time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I’d sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going,” she writes in a blog post. When Fowler raised the screenshots to HR, she was told her only two options were to stay and risk a negative performance review, or leave the team.

When Michelle Manning Barish, an ex-girlfriend of then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, came forward with allegations of physical assault, she cited four friends who were able to say that she confided in them, as well as a doctor’s report describing an injury she had once sustained. When confronted, Schneiderman shut down many of her claims.

As women have learned again and again, an allegation alone is almost certainly never enough to prompt any kind of action — including an impartial review. When women bring these claims, it’s not an effort to dismantle due process and argue for an automatic conviction, as some have argued; it’s an effort to simply have their stories heard.

To even reach that point, however, they not only have to endure the attacks that come with speaking out, they also have to have a bulletproof case built from the get-go.

It’s something Ford clearly knew all too well.