As accusers of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh continue to come forward and have their accounts of sexual assault questioned by powerful people — including President Trump — many other women are coming forward to share very personal experiences of their own in a show of support.
Count Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss among them.
Kniss is in her 70s. Only now is she comfortable unloading a secret that she kept from everyone but her sister for five decades.
As a young woman, Kniss says she suffered two sexual assaults: one by a friend who pulled off the road while driving her home and groped her. The other involved a pilot who shut her in a room, threw her on a bed and groped her.
Kniss got away both times, but the experiences left her traumatized.
Telling her story has been “very uncomfortable," she says. But she felt it was important to come forward now, as Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford prepares to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted her while they were in high school.
“I thought it could help Christine Ford, even though I don’t know her,” Kniss says. "I had a hope that someone coming forth and beginning to tell their story might give it more validity, and then maybe other people would come forth with their stories. As a friend said, if you start a ripple, you might end with a tsunami."
A key criticism that Kavanaugh’s supporters have leveled against Ford and another Kavanaugh accuser — his Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez — centers on why they’ve stayed quiet until now.
Having buried her own memories of unpleasant overtures for so many years, Kniss says the silence stems from the fear that one won’t be believed. That’s exactly what Christine Ford has gone through, Kniss says. But Kniss has been pleasantly surprised at the positive response she herself has gotten so far.
Another line of attack against Kavanaugh's accusers centers on memory.
That's especially key in the case of Ramirez, whose early conversations with The New Yorker were marked by reluctance “to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty.”
As reporters Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer detail in their article, it took Ramirez six days of “carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney” before she felt confident enough to put her recollections on the record.
Kniss acknowledges that memory can fail us. Indeed, her own memories are murky.
“I know what happened. But do I recall every detail, including what hotel I was in? I don’t. I remember that it happened. I remember very well," Kniss says.
“I think that while memory can fail us, I can almost guarantee you that if you are caught in the woods with somebody and you have no way of getting away — it’s dark and you don’t know quite where you are —you remember that," she says. "And I certainly not only remember it, but it’s sort of engraved. It’ll stay with me — I presume — forever.”
As for other victims of sexual assault, whether they've come forward or not, Kniss emphasizes how fear and panic in the moment of an attack can blur the details — but the core memory remains the same.
“They know what happened," she says. "They can point to a time and place that are pretty close, but they don’t remember all the details because they’re in that panicked situation where you are in fight or flight, and you are somehow going to get out of there."