I Saw Myself In Dr Christine Blaisey Ford’s Testimony
I’m writing this article from the UK on the morning of the US Senate cloture vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. For readers who’ve not been following reporting on this nomination as closely as me, Kavanaugh stands accused of sexually assaulting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (among others) while a high school student.
Nobody who knows me well will be in the least bit surprised that I have strong views about Dr. Ford’s (and other emerging) allegations and the way in which the majority party on the Senate Judiciary Committee have handled this matter. The mocking of her testimony – from Senator Orin Hatch telling survivors to ‘grow up,’ to the jeering crowd at a Trump rally - renders all survivors of sexual assault collateral damage. Anyone afraid of coming forward, afraid that s/he would not be believed, only has to look to the president to see his or her worst fears realised.
For me and many of the women I know, the Brett Kavanaugh case in the US has triggered some unexpectedly profound, and frankly unwelcome memories and emotions. The story of how a supreme court nominee, put forward by a braggadocious sexual predator, stands accused of a series of sexual assaults, including gang rapes, is reminiscent of a horror movie.
This is one of my stories.
By the age of 27, I had worked my way up the career ladder to my third managerial role. I was responsible for leading a team of forty staff and managing a large building in South London. I was on a fast-track to becoming a Director of Social Services. I was proud of my achievements and excited about the opportunities the future might hold.
My then line-manager was a white man in his fifties. His name was Terry. His role was to induct me into my new role and provide support in the form of regular monthly meetings and occasional visits. Initially, there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about his visits. Gradually he started to make more and more unannounced visits at unusual times of the day. I worked shifts, and it wasn’t unusual to find him in my office at 7am. I was told by staff that he visited during the night. When I asked him about this, he replied that meeting all staff was a part of his role.
In those days, people rarely talked about sex discrimination or harassment. Over time, I started to realise that Terry was conducting a campaign of bullying and intimidation. New to the organisation, and without an established network of my own, I didn’t know who I could turn to for advice and support.
Along with my management team, I worked shifts and routinely ‘slept-in’ once, occasionally twice a week. One day, just a few months into my new job, I discovered Terry in my ‘sleep-in’ flat at 6.15am in the morning. I wandered into the kitchen to get myself a cup of coffee, tousled hair, sleepy eyes and wearing my nightie, to find him standing there. I was shocked. Icily I asked him what he thought he was doing there. He tried to make out that it was nothing and left - to wait for me in my office.
A few days later, having discussed this and other incidents with my partner, I summoned up the courage to report these to his boss. Cathy said she’d drive straight over to see me.
Half an hour or so later, I saw her walking down the driveway with Terry in tow. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach at the realisation that I wouldn't receive a fair hearing. I wondered whether I’d done the right thing in calling Cathy. But I figured, as a woman, Cathy would understand my concerns. Terry sat brooding outside the room as I shared my concerns with Cathy.
I was stunned when Cathy told me in no uncertain terms that the fault was with me. "If I were better at my job, Terry would not have to spend so much time trying to correct me." She told me I could submit a grievance if I wished - but there was little point as I didn’t have the evidence to support my claims. It was a case of ‘he said – she said.’
Afterward, Terry’s bullying, intimidation, and harassment accelerated. I was so scared of meeting him alone that I positioned myself close to the door so that, if needs be, I could make a swift exit, banging the door behind me to give me time to get away.
I did raise that grievance. In retribution to my complaints, Terry made attempts to get me dismissed from my job.
Ask me now for further details about the incidents I’ve described above, and I couldn’t tell you. That’s despite having submitted a detailed grievance, written a comprehensive witness statement and given evidence at a grievance hearing, an appeal, an Employment Tribunal and an appeal to the EAT. I can describe some incidents, the places where these took place and how I felt. Beyond that, I remember very little. It's a chapter of my life I consider closed.
In case you're wondering, I won my case for sex discrimination at the Employment Tribunal - which is why I’m able to name the perpetrator and his enabler in this article. It’s a matter of public record. My employer appealed that decision to the EAT (Employment Appeals Tribunal) and the Court of Appeal, losing both times.
My case was conclusive, and there was no legal justification for appealing it. But this was not a deterrent to the men higher up the corporate ladder who supported Terry. That’s how far the institution went to protect him. To try to defend his behaviour at three separate courts, including the highest court in the UK, only to lose every single time.
I don’t know why my employer was prepared to go to such lengths to defend Terry. But I do know the effect this had on my trust, confidence, and career. It took over two years of my life and changed the course of my career.
I haven’t thought about this chapter in my life in years. But those memories returned during the testimony Dr. Ford gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week as I watched familiar tactics being used to discredit her.
I can understand only too well why Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s other accusers were so reluctant to come forward. To walk into a febrile and hostile political climate to testify about a (serious) sexual assault by two inebriated teenage boys in a bedroom at a party risks suicide by patriarchy. To walk into an environment where the accused man has the US president vehemently on his side and take a swing, you'd better not miss. What’s all the more moving about Ford’s decision to come forward – and potentially tragic - you could argue she missed her target.
In coming forward so courageously, Dr. Ford has triggered an excavation of the memories people who’ve been victimised, bullied and assaulted have buried because they wanted to forget and rebuild. Because they were young. Because it was such a long time ago. And because how do you bring up old irrecoverable pain and demand it be salved now, after all these years?
This excavation reminds me that the strength is in the act of remembering, and reclaiming those unwanted memories. In unfreezing - in Dr. Ford’s case - that young frightened girl and animating her in the body of an older, more certain woman. Kavanaugh’s nomination may have been confirmed but one thing’s for certain: a reckoning will surely follow.
Question: What's your response to Dr. Ford's case? Has it triggered any memories or concerns for you? Please do take a moment to tell me in the comments box below if you feel comfortable doing so.
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