Community rallies around local resident’s testimony against Kavanaugh

Members of the community gathered three times in the last two weeks to show their support for Palo Alto resident Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward and accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Palo Altans held a candlelight vigil at the Town and Country Village on Sept. 22, a protest at City Hall on Sept. 27 and a third demonstration at the intersection between Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real on Oct 4.

Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, testified on Thursday, Sept. 27 in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both teenagers. Since then, another woman has come out to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

Kavanaugh, an appellate judge who was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court this July, denied the accusations in testimony. Since then, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched and completed an investigation into the allegations.

Vigil organizer Vicky Blaine Mattson says 900 people gathered in solidarity with Dr. Ford. “There were hundreds of people at the event, and it was really great to see so many men and women come out in support of Christine,” she said.

Junior Sylvana Domokos, who took part in the event, feels that it was powerful to see members of the community support Dr. Ford. “It was really quite incredible to see so many people supporting women and their stories,” she said. “There really was a big collection of so many different types of people of different ages. It was really just wonderful to see the support.”

According to Domokos, keeping those in power accountable is important in the current political environment. “I just really hope that the American people and government take into full account the people who are going to be governing us,” she said. “While someone may be an extremely competent judge or lawyer, can we truly accept that they are competent without judging their character?”

Junior Christopher Liao says that people should take unfounded accusations with a grain of salt. “It’s great that people are fulfilling their civic duty by advocating for issues that they believe in,” he said. “However, we shouldn’t take these protests as a sign that one is guilty or innocent.” Liao believes that cases like this one should not be decided by popular sentiment. “Otherwise, our nation will descend into mob rule,” he said.

Sophomore Paranjay Singh believes that there must be concrete proof before he can claim Kavanaugh is guilty. “At first I was against Kavanaugh but I did more research and my stance is: he’s innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

Linda Henigin helped organize the Sept. 27 rally at City Hall, and says that this issue is especially close to the community. “Dr. Ford is one of the community members here, and I know friends of hers, even people who carpooled with her,” she said. “They all wanted to focus their energy and show their support for her, and I was happy to help make that happen.”

Henigin believes that while the discourse over sexual harassment has come a long way from where it was five years ago, there is still much progress to be made. “We’re not all the way there yet,” she said. “But I think the immediate tendency to look for reasons why a woman might be lying is not [like it] used to be.”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 31 percent of rapes are ever reported to law enforcement, with an even smaller percentage of other forms of sexual assault being reported. Women who don’t report sexual assaults cite reasons such as fearing consequences, minimizing trauma and feeling helpless about the situation.

Henigin has also written a thank you card to Ford as part of a campaign started by Palo Alto resident Kristen Podulka. “When we heard last week that she was getting death threats and hate mail and trolls commenting, we started a hashtag, #ThankYouCardsForChristine,” she said. “We’re sending those cards to her address at Palo Alto University where she works.”

Senior Sanaa Zakariya, who also attended the vigil, says that the community has done a lot to show their support for Ford. “I’ve been to a lot of these demonstrations, and not just for sexual assault suvivors,” she said. “But over the past couple of years, it has been a very interesting  atmosphere.”