Cambria resident Monica Friedlander says painful memories of her own sexual assault and harassment while working at UC Berkeley came flooding back as she listened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Like survivors across the country, Friedlander remembers the details of what she says happened to her but never reported the incident because of the potential consequences.
And like survivors across the country, Ford’s testimony that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her years ago dredged up those memories — the National Sexual Assault Hotline reported receiving a 147 percent increase in calls in comparison with a normal weekday.
“I think a lot of people, millions of people, have had the same experience. It’s easy to see yourself in her shoes. You remember how you felt and reliving your fears and you remember going back and forth about coming forward or not coming forward,” Friedlander said.
As in Ford’s situation, the man is in a position of power.
It happened eight or nine years ago when she was working as a communications manager at the university, a job she loved at a place she loved and where she wanted to stay.
The semi-retired journalist has chosen not to identify her alleged assaulter, because, she says, she’s afraid she’ll be sued; He was a dean at the time, and it’s her word against his. As in many cases of sexual assault, there is no evidence aside from her words.
One woman’s story
Friedlander says they were meeting in his office when the dean got between her and the door, pushed her against the desk, pressed his body against hers and groped her breasts.
She looked for something to grab on his desk and the only thing she saw was a framed picture of his family.
“I asked him to let me go. I don’t remember much except that I remember I ran out of the room as fast as I could,” she said.
Friedlander didn’t report the assault when it happened, she said, because she was worried about her income. She was a single woman who had adopted a son.
After the assault, her hours were cut in half.
“I had to face him every time we had meetings. Every time in any sort of professional capacity, he was there. I had to look him in the eye. And he continued to have power over me,” she said. “I know I didn’t perform as well after that incident as I did before. I actually had to attend a number of deans meetings. The power differential there was enormous.”
About a year later, she took a new job, desperate to get away.
“I had no one to support me. I could not afford to say anything,” Friedlander said. “What proof do I have? And what proof do any women have? Sexual assault and harassment are private by the nature of the event. I knew I would be questioned about what evidence I had, and I had none. You’re not prepared for something like this.”
A few years ago she contacted the university to report what happened.
She said they were supportive and encouraging, but she decided not to follow through when officials couldn’t promise her any legal protection.
Compelled to speak out
Staying silent comes with its own torment.
“He continues to teach at prominent universities and nobody, to my knowledge, nobody knows about it and he might be doing the same thing to other women. He’s probably done it over the years, and I feel guilty that I allow it to happen if that continues and I say nothing,” Friedlander said.
While watching Ford’s testimony, she spontaneously felt compelled to tell her story, so she contacted The Tribune.
“The way she was recounting her events, I felt like I could have been there in her shoes. It wasn’t me, but it could have been me. And I know how she feels, and that’s what prompted me to share my experience, mostly so people know that this is happening again and again and again,” Friedlander said.
“I just wanted to say that people believe her. That what she said was very credible,” Friedlander said. “I felt like as many women as possible should kind of magnify her voice and make a statement.”
If you have experienced sexual assault, there is support available even if you choose not to report to law enforcement. RISE has certified domestic violence and sexual assault counselors available at a 24-hour crisis line: 855-886-7473.