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Christine Blasey Ford’s apologies during the Kavanaugh hearing are familiar for assault survivors

"I truly wish I could be more helpful."

Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday felt familiar for countless women, femmes, and gender minorities across the country, as was her manner of delivering it.

Ford’s voice was wavering and she seemed constantly on the verge of tears while describing her experience with sexual assault at a high school house party in the 1980s. She was also apologetic and, at times, self-reproachful throughout her testimony and the questioning that followed — a common characteristic of survivors of sexual assault.

“I truly wish I could be more helpful with detailed answers to all of the questions that have been and will be asked about how I got to the party, where it took place, and so forth,” Ford said during her testimony. “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget.”

Ford frequently aimed to please the committee members, asking Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) at one point, “Does that work for you?” in regards to taking a break in the middle of the hearing. She also often apologized when answering the questions posed by Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor hired by Senate Republicans.

As BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen rightly pointed out on Twitter, “This is how women are conditioned to think about their assaults.”

Indeed, it is such “politeness conditioning” that often prevents women from coming forward about their assaults, or prompts them to blame themselves or feel ashamed afterward, as Deborah Ramirez said she felt after she was allegedly sexually harassed by Kavanaugh while they were both students at Yale University.

“We are taught from a very young age that the most important thing to do is to be nice and carry on and keep everyone connected,” Amanda Dale, executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, a Toronto organization for victims of violence, told The Globe and Mail in 2016. “There is no form of violence against women where there isn’t an element of this.”

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“We create these expectations of girls and women, and then we turn on them,” Dale added, referring to efforts by the public and people in power to discredit survivors or fault them for their silence.

These expectations seem to be heightened when the survivor is a person of color, an LGBTQ individual, or a person with disabilities, and such individuals are less likely to be believed and less likely to report their assaults as a result.