Surrounded by men who have gone on the record to say they don't believe her, Christine Blasey Ford painstakingly recounted for the Senate Judiciary Committee an experience from 1982 that, Dr. Ford says, compelled her to come forward. "I am terrified," she admitted frankly, surrounded by cameras and flanked by lawyers. Telling her story, she noted: "Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter." Her voice cracked.
Dr. Ford had been asked about her most vivid memory of what she claims was a sexual assault at the hands of almost-Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, which the judge denies. (It's worth mentioning here that forcing a survivor to relive their experience can be detrimental to their mental health, even in a supervised psychiatric setting.) Bracing herself, Dr. Ford responded: "The laughter."
Patrick Leahy, the Democrat asking Dr. Ford questions at the time, asked her to elaborate. "Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," Dr. Ford said. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense."
Dr. Ford added: “They were laughing with each other...I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed...Two friends having a really good time with one another.”
Perhaps Dr. Ford's observation is so potent because she is a renowned professor in psychology. Her observation about the hippocampus isn't pulled from thin air—it's a topic she knows intimately. (The hippocampus, for the record, is whether memory and emotion are thought to be stored.)
Dr. Ford went on to describe how trauma fixes itself to that part of the brain for the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Trauma-related experience is locked there...Other memories just drift," she said.
Dr. Ford has many other memories of the experience, she said—but this one, this in particular, stayed with her. It speaks to the shame that many survivors feel—shame imposed on them by socialized victim-blaming, by their own trauma, by a system that routinely fails them. It speaks to the humiliation of not just being violated on the most basic level, but feeling degraded in every way—psychologically, emotionally, spiritually. Even with her vast experience in the field of psychology, even with all she knows about how the brain processes trauma, Dr. Ford's visible emotion reveals that there is no overcoming that "indelible" feeling, regardless of how much time has passed.
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense." Leahy: "You've never forgotten that laughter?"Dr. Ford shakes her head. (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/lUp9cS0QH6September 27, 2018
Watching the hearing, people everywhere—survivors and otherwise—were left heartbroken by her brave and unforgettable testimony. Dr. Ford has been described as a patriot, an American hero, and capable of things that are beyond most people.
Yet, even if her testimony is what fells Kavanaugh and stops him from taking a seat on the highest court in the land, Dr. Ford had to re-traumatize herself in front of the entire nation to do so. Once again, a women's pain is being utilized in a way that does not benefit her, and—as is viscerally obvious watching the testimony—is actively, terribly, painful.
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Jenny is the Digital Director at Marie Claire. Originally from London, she moved to New York in 2012 to attend the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and never left. Prior to Marie Claire, she spent five years at Bustle building out its news and politics coverage. She loves, in order: her dog, goldfish crackers, and arguing about why umbrellas are fundamentally useless. Her first novel, EVERYONE WHO CAN FORGIVE ME IS DEAD, will be published by Minotaur Books on February 6, 2024.
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