During her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, Christine Blasey Ford said she had received threats and harassment that “rocked me to my core.”
However, she said, she also received “an outpouring of support” after she told the Washington Post that she had been sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school. “Thousands of people who have had their lives dramatically altered by sexual violence have reached out to share their own experiences with me and have thanked me for coming forward,” she testified.
Now Kavanaugh, who has denied the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him, sits on the Supreme Court and, at least as of earlier this week, Ford was unable to return to her home due to continuing threats. But the messages of support, too, have continued, with Americans sending letters to the psychology professor.
On October 5, according to Bustle, writer and comedian Giulia Rozzi tweeted a picture of her letter to Ford, sent care of Palo Alto University, where Ford works.
As Rozzi noted, Anita Hill wrote in 2011 about the many letters of support she had received after she testified in 1991 that Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee, had harassed her. So Rozzi decided to send a similar letter to Ford. Others, like writer Elliott Holt, soon did the same.
Ford is now in an unenviable position: As someone who came forward publicly with sexual assault allegations against a powerful man, she’s now famous for something she says she never wanted to talk about — something that, she testified, caused her lasting psychological pain.
It’s not just her — while many have focused on what happens to high-profile men after they’re accused, less attention has been paid to the futures of the women who have traded their privacy and in some cases their safety for the chance to speak openly about what they’ve endured. These women frequently face threats and harassment — at the very least, their lives often take a turn they never imagined. And sometimes, as in Ford’s case, it’s not even clear that their decision to speak has made any material change.
For some, writing letters to Ford is a way of assuring her that her testimony did have an impact, even if it wasn’t the one some of her supporters hoped for. “I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone up there,” Holt told Vox. “I didn’t want her to think it was all for naught.”
“I thought of it as a thank-you note”
Supporters are sending Ford letters and cards through her university and her representative in Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). It’s not clear how many letters either office has received — neither has responded to Vox’s request for comment.
Ford reached out to Eshoo earlier this year when she first sought to share her account that Kavanaugh assaulted her. At the time, she hoped her identity would remain private.
Instead, she’s become a household name after testifying at a hearing watched by millions. While Republicans in the Senate treated her somewhat more politely than senators treated Hill in 1991, many in the party made clear that they saw her as merely a pawn of Democrats. President Donald Trump mocked her and called the allegations against Kavanaugh a “hoax.”
Now, while Kavanaugh gets ready to help decide the future of the country, Ford has to move on from a battle she never sought out.
“I want her to be able to have her life back,” said Holt, who has written about her experience attending a Washington, DC-area private school similar to the one Ford attended. “She didn’t sign up to be a poster child for anything.”
Holt said she also wrote to Anita Hill. Like Ford, Hill faced threats after testifying. But, she wrote in 2011, she also received thousands of letters of support, and those letters became a kind of vocation.
“Women and men wrote about feeling isolated in their workplaces and alienated from or unaware of the laws that might help fight discrimination,” Hill wrote for Time magazine. Their stories showed her the disconnect between “the laws on the books” and people’s experiences, and led her to take her current job as a professor of social policy, law, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Brandeis University in Boston.
Holt had a simpler goal for her letter to Ford: “I thought of it as a thank-you note,” she said.
“I hope that enough people write to her that she doesn’t feel like it was a total waste of time,” she added. “Those men may be laughing but there are a lot of us who are not laughing at all, and are really emboldened by what she’s done.”
Ford’s future has implications for the many women who have come forward as part of #MeToo and who, in some cases, must now navigate newfound prominence. “I hope, when this is all over, that she is permitted to move on, and to be judged by the traits and accomplishments that are hers irrespective of what happened with Brett Kavanaugh,” Moira Donegan, who created the Shitty Media Men List and has written on #MeToo and sexual misconduct, told Vox in September.
After Kavanaugh was confirmed, Donegan said she’s come to feel that survivors deserve more than just belief.
“My standards have gotten higher,” Donegan said: “I don’t just want Dr. Ford, and other survivors, to be listened to and granted credibility. I want them to matter. I want their testimonies to have consequence, and to provoke change.”
Holt, meanwhile, recalls Ford’s testimony about the second door she had built into her house to help deal with feelings of claustrophobia she said stemmed from being assaulted by Kavanaugh. Forcing Ford to testify publicly felt in some ways “like putting her back in this claustrophobic room that she can’t get out of,” Holt said.
“Best-case scenario, these letters from people like me are that second door,” she added. “It might feel like you’re trapped, but there is this way out.”