Dr. Christine Blasey Ford thought Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her — I believe her because I did, too.
Today at 1 p.m. EST, thousands of people across the United States will be participating in a national walk-out to show support for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. If you haven’t been following the news, she’s the professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape at a high school house party.
The news reports took me back to Anita Hill’s testimony, in 1991, at Clarence Thomas’s Senate confirmation hearings. The image of Hill poised at a microphone, in that blue pantsuit, telling her sordid story as the whole world watched, was seared into my brain. With her perfectly coiffed hair and firm voice, she was dignified, almost regal.
This, I thought, is how you speak truth to power.
I was too young to understand patriarchy and sexism, or how both would work against Hill to prop Thomas up — even in the face of her credible allegations and corroborating witnesses.
Fast forward 27 years, and Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations reveal how little has changed. I read her account, in the Washington Post, of Kavanaugh allegedly trying to rip off her clothes, covering her mouth when she tried to scream.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she said.
Her story gave me a kind of secondhand PTSD. I tried to dismiss it, but couldn’t — though I’d buried the memory for years, I, too, was once afraid some guy might kill me.
It was 12 years ago, on a vacation in Belize. I barely knew him and felt nervous about going into his room, though I did, foolishly. He lit a blunt and, it being the second time in my life I’d been offered one, I tried it.
We kissed and, before I knew what was happening, he was heaving on top of me. I said no and tried to push him off, but my words were slurred, and it felt like my brain couldn’t catch up to what was happening.
He pressed his body down against mine, pinning my shoulders against the bed. In that moment, I knew that he could kill me and nobody would know.
I was terrified. It was the dead of night, and I had no idea where I was. I thought I’d done something stupid, that it was my fault. Yet somehow, in my altered state, I realized that struggling would only make it worse. So I stopped.
He eventually got off and, when he fell asleep, I lay awake waiting for the sun to rise. When it did, I ran — barefoot over the white sand, past the docks with the brightly-colored sailboats and swaying palm trees, their fronds weeping.
The next day, I sought him out and confronted him, demanding an apology. He denied anything untoward had happened and I didn’t press the matter.
What fascinates me now, reading through my old journals, is how thoroughly I buried what happened. I concocted a fictitious story about a moonlight tryst, denying, even to myself, that he’d forced himself on me.
It wasn’t until many weeks later, when I found out I was pregnant, that I accepted I’d been assaulted. Even then, I was so ashamed that I didn’t tell my family. Discreetly, I went to Planned Parenthood for the procedure and awoke from anesthesia hearing a high-pitched sound like a banshee, before I realized it was my own voice, screaming.
It would be several more years before I told a therapist what happened, and even then she called into question whether it was a “real” assault. I was confused about why, but it took another year before I felt comfortable enough to ask. In the years since, as a budding filmmaker, I have explored these issues in my work, while citing daily street harassment incidents using the hashtag #metoo.
Like Dr. Blasey Ford, who has spent her life studying the effects of trauma on psychological wellbeing, I have hidden the truth of why gender-based violence and trauma matters so much to me. It’s a kind of self-defense against those who would deny or denigrate my experience. Rather than tell my story, I’ve hid behind facts and statistics.
Truth is, we live in a hostile world that condones violence against women in many forms; there is the primary violence of assault, compounded by the secondary assault of media scrutiny and denial that many survivors experience when coming forward. I have watched Dr. Ford’s experience unfold in utter horror. It saddens me that, after reinventing her life in the aftermath of trauma, she has had to move her family following death threats.
But today is a new day.
Join Alliance for Justice, SEIU, Planned Parenthood, Women’s March, and a host of other organizations in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez today. Wear black and walk out — of your home, your office, your classroom, wherever you are — and post a picture to your social media with the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors.
My experience is but one, perhaps unremarkable, story among many others. I am telling it now in solidarity, standing with all women — like Anita Hill, who told her story 27 years ago — who speak their truth to power.
Alone we may feel powerless, but together we are mighty.
P.S. My name is Iquo B. Essien and I’m a writer, director and consultant based in Brooklyn. When I’m not busy helping artists and creative businesses, I’m working on my first feature film and a memoir.
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