New York: More than anything, she remembers the laughter. The laughter as one teenage boy held her down on the bed, groping her, as his friend watched. Laughter at her expense in a moment of terror.
Christine Blasey Ford speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.
“I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed," Christine Blasey Ford testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday local time. "Two friends having a really good time with one another.”
The US today is a profoundly divided country. But Americans from both sides of politics agreed that Thursday's hearings represented a cultural flashpoint that would reveal something fundamental about their country. In particular, how far it has come in responding to allegations of sexual assault against powerful men.
The #MeToo movement, sparked almost a year ago by revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein, has toppled media executives and comedians and celebrity chefs. But could it take down Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee to the country's most powerful court?
"It's a very big cultural moment," Donald Trump said when asked about the hearings the day before.
"This is beyond the Supreme Court. This has everything to do with our country. When you are guilty until proven innocent, it's just not supposed to be that way."
Brett Kavanaugh, US Supreme Court nominee.
Democratic senator Mazie Hirono agreed – for entirely different reasons.
“This moment has become a crucible," she said, quoting a statement from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. "It’s a test of our progress. Do we start by believing victims of sexual assault and treating them with dignity, or don’t we?"
The National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 147 per cent increase in calls on Thursday compared to a normal weekday, underlying the effect the hearings had on sexual assault survivors across America.
One reason the moment felt so significant is because the US had been here before.
Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington in 1991.
In 1991 Republican Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas faced last-minute accusations of sexual harassment by a former colleague, Anita Hill, who accused him of regularly describing explicit pornography and his genitals in the workplace.
Appearing before the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, Hill was treated in a way seen as inappropriate by today's standards.
One senator asked if she was a "scorned woman" with a "martyr complex". Another brandished a copy of The Exorcist, suggesting she had based her claims of crude behaviour on passages from the horror novel.
Despite her poised testimony, most Americans believed Thomas over Hill and he was granted lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court. Joseph Biden, who chaired the committee, later publicly apologised to Hill for the way the hearings were run.
In 1991, then-US Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas denounces and denies sexual harassment allegations made by Anita Hill against him before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Twenty-seven years later, all 11 Republicans on the committee are still men. But there were early signs of progress.
Aware of the terrible optics of male politicians trying to poke holes in the story of a sexual assault survivor, Republican senators outsourced their responsibilities to a female prosecutor.
This gave the hearings the appearance of a genuine fact-finding mission, not a political hit job.
The near-universal verdict, including among Republicans, was that Ford's testimony was compelling and convincing. The psychology professor served as her own expert witness, explaining how her response to the assault, including memory lapses, fits the pattern of trauma survivors.
By the afternoon, however, the sense of progress was receding fast. Rather than redemption for the Anita Hill fiasco, the hearings came to resemble a repeat performance.
A furious Kavanaugh adopted Thomas's approach of scorched earth denial – down to the precise words.
"This is a circus," Kavanaugh said, his distraught wife and parents sitting behind him. "This confirmation process has become a national disgrace."
In 1991 Thomas said: “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace."
The hearings then descended into an all-out partisan brawl, with Republican senators using their allocated question time to lambast Democrats for pursuing the allegations against Kavanaugh. It appears the FBI will not be asked to investigate the matter, and key witnesses will never publicly testify.
That makes possible one of two unpalatable outcomes.
Either a female survivor of sexual assault who bravely went public with her story will, yet again, be disbelieved. Or an innocent man will have his career shredded by unproven claims not supported by corroborating evidence.
"If you want justice," Republican senator Lindsey Graham concluded, "you've come to the wrong town at the wrong time."
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