We’re reeling on what seems like an hour-by-hour basis from the story of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her accusation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Ford, as of this writing, has accepted the Judiciary Committee’s invitation to testify on Thursday, though some details still need to be worked out. Also as of this writing, The New Yorker reports on a second woman with an accusation of sexual assault against the Court nominee, while the New York Post reports that Michael Avenatti, who represents Stormy Daniels in her legal case against President Trump, now represents a third woman with “credible information” on Kavanaugh that may include a charge of gang rape.
The response, or lack of response, by the Republican caucus to Dr. Ford’s decision to come forward is a perfect example of the lack of empathy towards victims of sexual assault from the current leadership of our legislative branch.
My former student happens to be very close with Dr. Ford and Dr. Ford’s family. She has spoken out on social media in support of Ford and stated that she wants to create positive dialogue. Her name is Julia Belanova. It was my privilege to direct her as a teenager at the prestigious Stagedoor Manor several years ago. She recently graduated Harvard. She will take the acting world and the world at large by storm.
Julia has been kind and brave enough to answer a few of my questions about Dr. Ford and to offer her perspective on our unfolding national conversation. As an accomplished young woman, Julia is bearing witness to this complicated historical moment from a unique place. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
TB: Julia, could you briefly describe your connection to Dr. Ford? How would you describe her objectively to someone?
JB: I’ve known Dr. Ford for my whole life. She has worked with my dad for 25 years. I’ve spent time with her at office parties and work-related events, and she has also hosted my family at her home. She is a kind and generous person. She loves to surf. Her eyes light up when she talks about history, nature and her beautiful family. She is an incredible psychologist, and her research has been groundbreaking. In her work, she is a statistician, often working on creating objective measures for psychological studies. Personally, I’m inspired by who she is and the many contributions she has made to this world. She is an accomplished academic and woman in science. She is a thoughtful and driven person, with a clear sense of right and wrong. She is a beloved coworker, community member and mom. To me, she has always been a role model, and it has been frustrating to see the false narratives that have been circulated about her in the past few days.
TB: Why do so many women not report sexual assault, abuse and harassment? According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, about 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. Only six perpetrators out of every 1,000 will go to prison.
JB: I think it’s important to note that all people can be victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment. For many victims, reporting is extremely difficult. Victims may fear retaliation from the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s allies. The process of reporting itself can be very emotionally taxing for victims, simply because recounting traumatic events can be extremely painful. Additionally, these crimes may be difficult to “prove” for a variety of reasons, because there may have been no witnesses present, or the perpetrator may have been a trusted friend or partner of the victim, or victims may lack the resources or strength to seek out support in a timely manner. There are many reasons why these events are underreported.
TB: What about the double standard in all this? If an adult man comes forward about childhood abuse from a male member of the clergy, he is often lauded as brave and a survivor. If an adult woman comes forward about childhood abuse by a male peer or authority figure, she is often accused of “misremembering” or being “mixed up” or worse.
JB: I think many women are taught from a young age to tolerate the misbehavior of men. It is ingrained early that women should not stand up for themselves, that the best way to respond to mistreatment is by ignoring it. Whether its bullying from a young boy on the playground, a catcall from a stranger on the sidewalk, or “locker room talk” from male coworkers, women are expected to smile and put up with it, not to respond. I believe this mentality extends to cases of abuse as well. This expectation is unfair and a huge burden. I think everyone should be encouraged to stand up for themselves and their own equal humanity.
TB: As someone close to Dr. Ford, what do you think of the response to her by the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee?
JB: Observing this situation has been heartbreaking. I don’t understand why so many people have been quick to deride Dr. Ford and her experiences. It is extremely offensive to victims of sexual assault everywhere to dismiss these accusations, especially without proper investigation. I believe that a person who has attempted rape should never serve as a judge on the Supreme Court, and all citizens should take these accusations seriously.
TB: Do you have a sense of what Dr. Ford hopes to achieve by coming forward, aside from the outcome of her testimony?
JB: I think she thought this was something about Brett Kavanaugh that the world needed to know. I think she could not, in good conscience, stand by and withhold this information from the American public. She needed to tell the truth, even if it put her own life and the lives of her family members in danger.
TB: The media reports that Dr. Ford has received death threats, has left her home and now requires security — all a heavy burden on her family and professional life. How is she holding up?
JB: She is so strong. She is scared, but she endures. She is my hero.
TB: As evidenced by the hashtag #whyididntreport, countless women and men are coming forward to rightfully defend Dr. Ford by their own painful stories of why they chose not to report their abuse. What can each of us do to keep this dialogue going in a productive and positive way?
JB: I think each of us can think about what we can do to make this world a safer place for others, especially the disadvantaged. Last week, when my dad and I were on the street in San Francisco, we witnessed a man physically assaulting a woman experiencing psychosis. My dad, an experienced psychiatrist, intervened and protected this woman. I think all of us have a responsibility to stand up for others and be the change we wish to see in this world. I think all of us can think about situations in which we might be more compassionate, in which we might give voice to the voiceless. It is crucial to listen to and support survivors of abuse and to recognize the tremendous strength it takes to come forward.
TB: I find myself struggling with anger over the tone-deaf Republican response to this matter. Regardless of its eventual outcome, what positive step can we take to raise awareness and educate an older generation that seems indifferent to the struggle of abuse victims?
JB: It’s very important to continue to discuss these issues and address the unfortunate prevalence of sexual harassment, abuse and assault. I believe there are many victims out there still struggling to process their experiences. My hope is that Dr. Ford coming forward can be an inspiration to others.
TB: The Judiciary Committee denied Dr. Ford’s request that an alleged witness to her assault be called to testify. (When Anita Hill testified before the Judiciary Committee in 1991 concerning her accusations against Justice Thomas, the FBI wrapped it up in about three days.) How will Dr. Ford approach her next phase of life, given that her testimony will change her public profile?
JB: I don’t know what her future plans are. I know she already has an active professional life and family that are high priorities to her. She is not someone who chooses to be in the spotlight. Whatever she does, she will continue to be a leader in her field and an exemplary citizen.
TB: What do you personally take away from Dr. Ford’s journey?
JB: I just want to say, loudly and clearly, that this process is not Dr. Ford’s journey. Her journey is her interesting and meaningful life; a life of service, scientific discovery, passion and personal growth. What has infuriated me the most has been the reduction of her life to one traumatic story, and the way that some have portrayed her as “Kavanaugh’s accuser.” Dr. Ford’s research is currently saving thousands of lives. Dr. Ford is lively and lovely and brilliant, and she is the kind of woman I want to grow up to be. Her journey is long from over. It has been heartening to hear from, and about, the many people who are supporting her as she goes through this difficult time. I am confident she will go on to achieve much more after she gets through this. I feel lucky to know and learn from her.