Three weeks ago, I publicly revealed that I was abused by my parish priest when I served as an altar boy in the late 1980s. Shortly after that, I wrote a piece for HuffPost explaining how coming forward about that experience radically changed my life. My story has been featured on NBC’s New York City affiliate. I have been interviewed by multiple local newspapers. I have received well over 1,000 messages directly relating to my revelation, and all of them have showered me with gratitude and praise for my courage.
I have been told that I have saved innumerable lives. I’ve heard that I am a voice for victims who are no longer here to share their tales of abuse. I have learned that I have inspired others to speak out about what they have been through. On dozens of occasions, I have been called a hero (a term I flatly reject, for what it’s worth).
Aside from the trolls in the cesspools known as the comments sections of local news sites, not a single person ― no friend, acquaintance or stranger ― has questioned my account, my motives or the authenticity of my story. I’ve been on this planet for 41 years, and I have never felt as loved and supported as I do today.
Sadly, such love and support have not been granted to Christine Blasey Ford, a professor and research psychologist who came forward ― first in a confidential letter and last week by name — about a sexual assault she says she suffered at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school. Like me, Blasey says her attack took place in the 1980s, and like me and countless others who say they have survived sexual assault, she says she has been living with this abuse for the better part of her life.
“Whereas I have been celebrated for coming forward about what happened to me all those years ago, Blasey’s allegation has, to put it mildly, received decidedly less applause.”
Whereas I have been celebrated for coming forward about what happened to me all those years ago, Blasey’s allegations have, to put it mildly, received decidedly less applause. After alleging that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while he was “stumbling drunk” at a party over three decades ago, she was met with a storm of scorn, ridicule and disbelief unlike any other in recent memory.
Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have been careful not to publicly question Blasey’s motives or reputation ― but they don’t have to. They have the entire right-wing echo chamber to do their dirty work for them.
Ann Coulter’s twitter feed has transformed itself into a forum dedicated to Blasey bashing featuring the pundit’s patented petty and sophomoric digs at the professor and retweets from friends and followers offering the same disgusting vitriol.
Conservative social media has whipped itself into a frenzy with attacks on Blasey’s family, memory, motives, professional qualifications and political beliefs.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) even went so far as to grotesquely make light of her grave allegations when, during a recent debate, he joked, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out saying she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”
And after originally offering what many believed to be a remarkably measured response to Blasey’s claims, Donald Trump fired up his Twitter on Friday morning to all but dismiss her story by stating that he has “no doubt” that if the “attack … was as bad as she says,” she would have filed a police report 30 years ago directly after the alleged assault.
As a result of going public about her experience, Blasey has faced harassment and death threats so sinister, she has been forced to leave her home and go into hiding.
In light of all that has taken place over the past week, I can’t stop wondering why I’m have been dubbed a hero whose motives and accounts of abuse are above reproach while Blasey has been painted as hyperbolic or, more often, a liar who is merely looking to derail the appointment of a supposedly honest, God-fearing family man to the Supreme Court.
I’m not naive. I know that because of the hyperpartisan system we find ourselves living in and continually grappling with, moments like these can cause many of us to retreat to our respective corners, to rally around our flags. It has happened with television shows. It has happened with professional sports. It has even happened with Budweiser. But shouldn’t the denunciation of sexual abuse and the support for survivors be considered well beyond any political divide? Shouldn’t all of us, no matter our party affiliation or political beliefs, want to search for and ultimately find the truth of this matter and welcome an investigation into Blasey’s claims?
Take it from someone who has been there: None of this is easy to talk about, folks. Living with memories (remembered or repressed) and their psychological ramifications is no walk in the park. It harms the survivor. It damages relationships. It can lead to a host of medical problems such as anxiety, depression, hypertension and substance abuse. I should know; I experienced many of these conditions because of the abuse that I suffered and the pain and shame that resulted from my inability to discuss it until very recently. What’s worse, opening up to a loved one or a trained professional can seem impossible at times for any number of reasons, from worrying you won’t be believed to fearing the consequences you might face if you come forward. Now imagine how daunting it would be to open up to the entire country about something as personal and stigmatizing as sexual assault.
I’m able to keep forging ahead only because I have the wind at my back. I have the gift of an overwhelming army of people who believe in me and support me. Nobody has doubted the sincerity or authenticity of my allegations against my abuser. Like Blasey, my life has completely changed because I spoke out ― only in my case, it’s been for the better.
Sharing my story has allowed me to come to grips with the fact that I was not crazy and that what I endured all those years ago was not normal. I have friends, family members and strangers who are willing to stand beside me and help fight to make sure the subcultures that have fostered child abuse and sexual assault for centuries are exposed, rectified and halted once and for all.
“Opening up to a loved one or a trained professional can seem impossible at times for any number of reasons. ... Imagine how daunting it would be to open up to the entire country about something as personal and stigmatizing as sexual assault.”
Most important, unlike Blasey, I have never been lambasted for waiting 30 years to speak out. Not once. Quite the contrary: Everyone I’ve encountered has understood why it took so long. If you’re fortunate enough never to have experienced an assault, you might not understand how the human psyche can work to suppress traumatic experiences ― or the internal bargaining you engage in to keep yourself safe and as whole as possible in the aftermath of that trauma. What’s more, you probably haven’t come up against the wall of disbelief that so many women face in the aftermath of assault. And if you can’t understand what any of this is like or at the very least acknowledge how difficult all this must be, you’re simply unqualified to offer an opinion.
Knowing all this makes the attacks on Blasey all the more gut wrenching. They’re coming from individuals who are either woefully uninformed about the situation or who are approaching her account with nefarious intentions in order to help confirm Kavanaugh at any cost. If any one of these people or someone they loved had endured sexual abuse, I believe they wouldn’t be behaving like this.
Very few people (if any) wake up one day and say, “You know what? I’m going to tell the world that I am a survivor of sexual abuse!” It just doesn’t work that way. For many of us, something sparks our memories or inspires us to tell our stories.
I was triggered when I encountered two stories that broke within weeks of each other: news that my former archbishop Theodore McCarrick was an abuser and that a groundbreaking Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings documented the scope of clergy abuse in the state.
Blasey was prompted to speak out when she learned the man she claims assaulted her at a party was in line to become a Supreme Court justice.
“Such similar experiences with such different outcomes. One of us is called a hero. The other is deemed mixed up or a flat-out liar.”
Such similar experiences with such different outcomes. One of us is called a hero. The other is deemed mixed up or a flat-out liar. It’s this difference in how Blasey and I are seen that is so confounding to me. Which leads me to believe that gender plays an even bigger role in this situation than politics does. The mistrust and doubt that Blasey is facing is exactly the same ― though magnified by her position in the public square ― as the mistrust and doubt that so many women before her have faced. Even though we know that false accusations of rape are rare, women’s stories and motivations are routinely questioned, and that’s one more reason so many don’t speak out. Even if they did, who would believe them? And even if a woman is believed, all too often she’s then criticized for wearing provocative clothes or sending mixed signals or otherwise doing something that supposedly made the attack not an attack or somehow justifiable.
Even in the era of Me Too, when so many women have bravely come forward to tell what has happened to them, the right wing’s instinct is to slut-shame first and ask questions later.
As a survivor ― and as a fellow human being ― I find this kind of behavior sickening.
Thankfully, Blasey has supporters. Thankfully, there are millions of Americans who believe her story and hope that she is somehow, someday able to find some semblance of peace. But too many people do not, and too many people refuse to even entertain the thought of offering her the decency of a formal investigation of her claims.
I was lucky. When I spoke out, I was heard. I was believed. I was celebrated.
But there is no difference between Christine Blasey Ford and me. We both have allegations that date back three decades. We both are adamant that those allegations are true and that what we said happened actually did happen. We both have been forced to stand up to powerful institutions. And we both are able to offer enough circumstantial evidence and corroborating claims to warrant further investigation into what we allege took place all those years ago.
If I am a hero, she is a hero ― and she deserves the chance to tell her story.
Ed Hanratty is a freelance political journalist. A lifelong New Jerseyan, he prides himself on having just enough Garden State sarcasm and skepticism to keep his bleeding heart in check. Keep up with his work and random musings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.