As the country watched Christine Blasey Ford testify Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her sexually many years ago, a handful of central Mainers reacted with the impression that Ford was credible and said the nomination process should not be rushed.

“The bottom line is, I really, absolutely find her credible,” Waterville resident Joan Phillips-Sandy said. “I think so far, the process is being fair and I think the back and forth process, although a little weird, may be helping Ford.”

Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, is being questioned by prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who has been asked to speak for Republican committee members who were given five minutes each to question Ford. Democratic committee members have been making statements and asking Ford questions themselves.

A former prosecutor and longtime member of the Waterville Board of Education, Phillips-Sandy said during a break in the hearing Thursday that she found that back and forth process a little disconcerting, but she believes it gave Ford a little break every five minutes, which may have helped her nerves.

“I can understand why Republican men wanted to bring someone in (to question Ford),” she said. “I think they would have made a complete hash of it.”

Phillips-Sandy also said Ford, who uses language about brain function and memory, seemed to be someone who lives very much in her head.

“As I’m listening to her do that, I’m thinking she’s doing that so naturally. She’s talking about complicated brain function and I think that’s where she’s more comfortable,” she said. “There’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that she’s telling the truth.”

Thomas R.W. Longstaff, a Democratic state representative from Waterville who will leave the Legislature in November, having reached the term limit, also was watching the hearing Thursday and said Ford seemed believable.

“She’s going to be pressed pretty hard before the day is over, I think,” Longstaff said after the morning testimony. “I wish there was more time for this process. I hate to see it rushed.”

Corey Wilson, an Augusta city councilor and former Republican state legislator, said Ford’s testimony seemed credible to him, especially because she communicated her concerns well before the nomination hearings, both to her congressional representative and to her therapist.

He said before hearing Ford’s testimony Thursday, he suspected Ford could have been a Democratic operative of some kind; but hearing her speak Thursday, he changed his view to believe Ford shows credibility and she believes what she said happened to her.

“Prior to her testimony, I was far more skeptical,” Wilson said. “I think the fact she had spoken with her therapist well in advance of any nomination or hearings, and that she had reached out to her own congressperson prior to any nomination hearing, I think those two things support that she has significant concerns for Judge Kavanaugh serving.

“The question is, did what she is saying actually occur? The fact is we don’t know that. You don’t know that. I don’t know that. The Judiciary Committee doesn’t know that,” he added. “I think it would be a good idea for them to fully investigate that.”

Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, as her attorneys Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich watch. Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP

Wilson said even though Ford did show credibility in her testimony, it is still in the realm of possibility that she believes those things happened to her, but they did not actually occur.

If he were in Kavanaugh’s position, Wilson said, he would want Ford’s claims investigated.

He also said he looked forward to hearing what Kavanaugh, who was just starting his testimony Thursday afternoon, had to say.

MORE CALLS TO HELPLINE

Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was on a day off but took her daughter to day care and was taking the time to watch the hearings.

“I think Dr. Ford looks exactly like and seems exactly like a textbook credible victim,” Courchesne said. “She is obviously terrified. She’s clearly experienced a lot from this ordeal, and it’s really hard to watch.”

Meanwhile, calls to a sexual assault response helpline in Maine doubled Thursday as Ford testified, according to Courchesne, who spoke with an official in charge of the help line.

“Through the roof — it’s double the amount of calls,” Courchesne said, adding that she did not know specific numbers. “It has essentially all been referencing the Kavanaugh hearing.”

Courchesne last week issued a news release from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault that says the coalition supports Ford.

“Dr. Blasey Ford’s later report of assault is common among victims of sexual violence,” the release says. “Victims don’t have much to gain by reporting sexual assault. Most often, they have a lot to lose, which is why sexual assault is the most unreported violent crime in the United States. In addition to the deeply personal nature of sexual assault victimization, victims often experience serious backlash when they report. They’re accused of lying. They receive death threats. Certainly, it is understandable that Dr. Blasey Ford wanted her report to be kept confidential, as she almost certainly faces significant retaliation on the national stage.”

Nationally, the call increase has been similar, according to Sara McGovern, press secretary for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

“We don’t have any specific numbers for today yet, but our queue is higher than a standard day. We often see an uptick when sexual assault is in the news. For example, last weekend, from Friday to Sunday, we saw a 57% increase compared to an average Friday to Sunday. Since Dr. Ford has come forward with her allegations, we have seen a 45.6% uptick compared to the same time period in 2017,” McGovern said in an emailed response.

Melanie Sachs, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, said calls to the help line have been growing for about a year, and she attributes the increase to the #MeToo movement, in which women have reported sexual assaults by powerful men, such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, or scandals over child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Media coverage of those reports, along with Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, tend to lead to more calls, she said.

Courchesne said Thursday that she thinks it is important for people to remember that the hearing is not a criminal trial — not an investigation being conducted by an impartial body or person. It is a job interview for a position on the highest court in the land, Courchesne said.

‘LATE IN THE GAME’

Waterville Republican Norton Webber has another view. He said he does not have a television but was following the hearing on his computer and he feels that the accusations against Kavanaugh “lit up late in the game.” He said Ford’s allegations are unprovable.

“I just feel like a lot of the accusations came very late, and the very idea that Sen. Diane Feinstein did not divulge this to begin with — really, for me, that casts a shadow on the whole process,” Webber said.

He said he voted for Donald Trump for president for one reason — the Supreme Court appointment.

“If you get elected president, theoretically you get to choose the judge you want,” he said. “He gets to choose, but the Senate gets to confirm or deny.”

Webber, who is pro-life, says he thinks Roe v. Wade needs to be revisited.

“As a Christian, there are some things laws should be made for or against — there already is a high court for that stuff. To have a law made that allows freedom of sexual activity at the expense of a baby, I don’t see it’s a good swap.”

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said she watched parts of the proceedings while having an early lunch and said Ford presented as an intelligent, competent and credible woman.

“I was struck by her most vivid memory: the laughter of her attackers,” said Maloney, a Democrat. “Victims who talk to me about their assaults often hold on to a single detail. Her memory of the laughter was chilling and compelling.”

She said there should be a full investigation into the accusations against Kavanaugh.

“Yes, three women have come forward,” Maloney said. “It is inadequate to hear from only one. It is also unacceptable to not hear from a key witness like Mr. (Mark) Judge. I see no harm in a full investigation. I see a lot of harm in refusing an investigation. The country needs a neutral fact-finder to determine what is the truth.”

She noted the proceedings are not a hearing in which the state needs to prove that Kavanaugh is guilty. Instead, Maloney said, it is the opposite, that Kavanaugh needs to prove to the country that he deserves a lifetime appointment to our highest court.

Waterville psychologist Dennis Ratner said that he believes Ford and what she is saying, but his comments must be understood in the context of not having yet heard the opposing side. Ratner noted there is a large body of literature about the psychology of memory, repression, distortion and the like, but he has no expertise in that area, so his opinions are personal.

“I find her to be totally credible from an intellectual and emotional perspective,” he said.

BURIED TRAUMA

Sachs, with sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, said victims of sexual assault are encouraged to call her agency’s help line “if they want to talk about an incident 36 years ago or today.”

Sachs said she and others who take the calls tend to follow the lead of the caller. If they’d like to report the assault, she said, SARS will offer to have someone accompany them to police. If they’d like counseling, they can recommend someone. Or if they’d just like to talk about the incident, they’ll do that.

“We provide support,” whatever form that takes, Sachs said, and act as advocates for those who call the help line.

Public attention to incidents of sexual violence can bring up trauma that’s been buried deeply, she said.

“People don’t forget, and it does have an impact,” Sachs said.

But if that leads people to reach out for help, that’s a positive outcome, she said.

“I have been doing this for over two decades and I am in awe of the resilience of survivors,” Sachs said. “They have done the best they can to integrate this violence and continue to live and survive. It’s amazing.”

“I have a caseload of survivors like Dr. Ford,” she added later, “a lot of eerily similar and heartbreaking stories.”

Staff writer Keith Edwards and Portland Press Herald staff writers Dennis Hoey and Penelope Overton contributed to this report.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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