The courage shown by Dr. Ford at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing was beyond anything that should ever be expected from a survivor of sexual assault. She was described by members of the committee as being heroic and a role model for survivors everywhere. We cannot agree more.
What was concerning for us to witness was the questioning of the victim by Rachel Mitchell, on leave from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Ms. Mitchell questioned Dr. Ford in a manner inconsistent with principles of trauma-informed interviewing. She jarringly jumped from topic to topic and continually questioned the timeline of events, focusing on details that are often difficult for sexual assault survivors to recall. Furthermore, Ms. Mitchell focused on Dr. Ford’s motivation for coming forward, clearly trying to connect her disclosure to a partisan scheme. Dr. Ford was not on trial, yet the questioning transpired as through she were under cross-examination. As we watched the hearing with sexual assault survivors from our communities, they shared how emotional and revictimizing it was to watch Dr. Ford be treated as though she was a defendant.
Given that Ms. Mitchell discontinued questioning early in Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, it was clear her presence was a partisan tactic to undermine Dr. Ford’s credibility and suggest her disclosure was part of a political conspiracy instead of an extremely courageous act of civic responsibility. Any prosecutor who agreed to participate in such a process inherently allowed themselves to become a pawn of a partisan scheme rooted in concern over optics of an all-male panel questioning the female victim.
In light of this, we have serious concerns about the impact of this hearing on survivors nationwide, and especially within our local community of Maricopa County. How can sexual assault survivors have confidence they will be treated with respect, have their reports believed, and their cases taken seriously? As was pointed out during the hearing, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s own protocol for appropriately responding to sexual assault cases outlined characteristics of trauma-informed interviewing that were completely absent from Ms. Mitchell’s questioning. The effects of this will have practical impacts long after this hearing and political circus ends.
This hearing was an egregious display designed to humiliate, undermine, and discredit Dr. Ford. It sent a loud message to all sexual assault survivors. We commend Dr. Ford’s strength and courage—it was inspiring to watch as she stood in the face of a patriarchal system designed to silence victims. We stand with her and all survivors today and every day.