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"One Way Back": Christine Blasey Ford on speaking out, death threats, and life after the Kavanaugh hearings

Christine Blasey Ford on the cost of speaking out
Christine Blasey Ford on the cost of speaking out 08:25

The waters around Lighthouse Field State Beach, in Santa Cruz, California, are beautiful to look at, but surfing here is something else. It takes a certain kind of fortitude to jump in. The waves are great, but the currents are strong, and the rocks are sharp and unforgiving. Christine Blasey Ford has surfed this break countless times, on good days and bad. She knows just what it takes to summon up your courage and hurl yourself off a cliff.

In September 2018, Ford – a Ph.D. in psychology, a professor at Palo Alto University, and a mother of two – jumped straight into the maelstrom of American politics.

She alleged that Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was then a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted her in the summer of 1982, when she was 15 and he was 17.

"I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified."

In her testimony she stated, "I was pushed onto the bed and Brett got on top of me. He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me."

The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee hung on her every word, as did nearly 10 million viewers on cable TV.

Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyers Debra S. Katz, left, and Michael R. Bromwich, answers questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, September 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill
Psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, left, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, testifying separately before the Senate Judiciary Committee about accusations of sexual assault, Thursday, September 27, 2018.  REUTERS/Melina Mara. Jim Bourg

And a short time later, an emotional Kavanaugh testified that Ford had it all wrong. "This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he said. "If the party described by Dr. Ford happened in the summer of 1982 on a weekend night, my calendar shows all but definitively that I was not there. …

"I categorically and unequivocally deny the allegation against me by Dr. Ford. I never had any sexual or physical encounter of any kind with Dr. Ford."

"Sunday Morning" reached out to Justice Kavanaugh for this story, but got no response to a request made through the court.

Smith asked Ford about the arguments made by supporters of Kavanaugh: "One of the big things that they said is, 'Why is it that no one can recall that night in the way that you recall it, that there was that party?'"

Christine Blasey Ford. CBS News

"Well, there were so many parties in high school, and this was a pretty unremarkable one," Ford replied. "And his friends not being able to recall that evening, I guess, just doesn't surprise me, because everyone sort of got together almost every night to hang out together."

"Do you think that that lent weight to his side of the story, that no one can remember it?" asked Smith.

"Well, it seems like they think that for sure, and that that was how they, you know, portrayed that night," Ford said.

"Do you think that that bolsters his side of the story, that no one can remember it?"

"No," said Ford. "To me it doesn't bolster his story, because I think, like, for survivors out there, if you know it happened to you, so even if no one ever believed you or no one thought it happened or no one saw it – and there are people that are assaulted all the time where no one else was even there – that doesn't mean it didn't happen."

Ford's testimony drew strong reactions from both sides.

Asked if she was naïve about how the process worked, Ford said, "I like to use the word 'idealistic,' but maybe I was naïve for sure about [the] consequences and how bad it would be after I testified."

What's more, a memo released by committee chair Charles Grassley's office in November 2018 said that the Senate and subsequent FBI investigations found "no evidence to substantiate any of the claims of sexual assault made against Justice Kavanaugh."

Smith asked, "What was it like for you to see that? Here it goes out there and you know there were people on television saying, 'Look, this exonerates Justice Kavanaugh'?"

"I was devastated when that report came out; I was really, really upset," said Ford. "That was a really difficult period that I think was the beginning of sort of the darkest times for me."

And things got dark, indeed: not only was her moment in the national spotlight deeply traumatizing, it also brought death threats credible enough to force her and her family out of their home and into a hotel for months. 

St. Martin's Press

What kind of threats? "Gosh. 'I wanna see you six feet under. I wanna see you 12 feet under, 10 feet under,' any amount, you know, a lot of those," Ford said. "'I hope you get cancer. I hope you die. I give you a year. Glad you have two kids 'cause we have two opportunities.' And all of the letters like that, they would have such similarity to them that it felt like, 'Do these people know each other? Because how could the wording be that similar?'"

"They were threatening your family, your kids?" asked Smith.

"Uh-huh. Yeah, especially the first-born. That seemed to be a thing. It's, like, you know, 'We'll take your first-born.' … It's still scary. It still scares me."

In fact, it got so bad that the family needed 'round-the-clock security, and to this day they still use guards for some public appearances, which can cost thousands of dollars at a time.

She writes about it all in a new book, "One Way Back," including her months-long struggle to decide how, or if, to come forward at all.

Smith asked, "It seems like you've kind of gotten back to, if not normal, at least safety, feeling comfortable. Why write this book and put yourself out in the spotlight again?"

"This book is really for the letter-writers, and it's dedicated to them," said Ford.

She says most of the mail she got were letters from supporters and survivors of sexual assault – so many that they've taken up the dining room in her home.

And they just keep coming. "We've made it through 30,000 so far," Ford said. "All I know is there's more than that left to go."

Christine Blasey Ford received tens of thousands of letters of support following her testimony.  Christine Blasey Ford

She said all those letters prove to her that, even though Justice Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed, Ford's testimony meant something. "I think it would be impossible to read the letters and not – even if you just read 10 of them – think that it didn't matter."

When asked if her life has returned to normal, she replied she'd given up on the idea of normal quite a while ago. "But I'm in a new normal," she said, "and a new chapter."

Ford said that when she first came forward, she didn't know just how rough the waters would be, but for her it was the only way.

And she doesn't regret coming forward: "Not at all," said Ford. "I grew up in D.C. I revered all of those institutions. And to me the Supreme Court was sort of the ultimate. That's where our very best people are. And I felt like the choice of saying nothing was more uncomfortable, that I would have to live with not saying anything about it."

READ AN EXCERPT: "One Way Back" by Christine Blasey Ford

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Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine. 

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