Christine Blasey Ford was clearly, as she said, “terrified” testifying Thursday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. She spoke timidly, her eyes nervously darting around the room as the senators bickered before her. And yet, alongside the shakiness, a truly authoritative person emerged: Dr. Ford, the psychologist.
Consider this exchange between Ford and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) discussing the alleged assault:
Feinstein: How were you so sure that it was [Kavanaugh]?
Ford: The same way that I am sure that I am talking to you right now: It’s basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes that neurotransmitter, encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.
Feinstein: So what you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity?
Ford: Absolutely not.
And in response to Feinstein’s question about why she held her story back for so many years: “I did disclose it in the confines of therapy, where I felt like it was an appropriate place to cope with the sequelae of the event.”
Sequelae, in case you haven’t had a chance to Google the term, refers to any pathological condition resulting from a disease, injury or trauma. Ford said she has been suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including claustrophobia and episodes of panic. She also detailed that in the first four years after the alleged attack, she struggled academically and to make new friends — especially with boys — in college.
Leading up to Thursday’s hearing, many conservatives have dismissed Ford’s accusations because they say it has taken too long for her to come forward or because they believe it is possible for her to have gotten some of the details of her alleged attack wrong over the course of decades. Women who have experienced similar ordeals have quickly come to her defense.
But, it turns out, she needs no one to defend her. She has her own scientific expertise to do that.
As a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Ford clearly knows her stuff. This is truly a remarkable moment: When have we ever seen a case in which the person who alleges a crime can also in detail describe how it has affected her at a neurological level? For this to occur in such a high-profile #MeToo incident makes for an impressive culmination of the string of allegations against powerful men over the past year.
These hearings, of course, are not a criminal trial. There is no requirement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged assault occurred more than 30 years ago. As a measure of fairness, the members of the Judiciary Committee must weigh the credibility of Ford’s claims against the credibility of Kavanaugh’s denials. This is not an easy task, and it should be aided with further investigation. Ford already had a credible case before she arrived in Washington. But her striking testimony, bolstered by her own psychology expertise, is going to be extremely difficult for Republicans to wave off.