Catherine Perreault grew up in Madawaska, Maine — a town of just under 4,000 people less than 50 miles from Caribou, where Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) grew up. Like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. And like Dr. Ford, she has a hazy memory of certain details of the assault, while others are perfectly clear. To this day, Perreault can’t stand the smell of Old Spice.
“I had an incident in high school where I fought off somebody. Somebody attempted to assault me, and I gained the upper hand, and I was able to get away. I was 17,” Perreault told Grit Post. “I lived in this tiny town, where everybody knew everybody. But I can’t remember whose house it was. It’s crazy to me, because it’s such a small town, but why can’t I remember that?”
Perreault was one of five sexual assault survivors who spoke directly with Sen. Collins at her Washington, DC office last week. While Collins didn’t speak much during the 15-minute meeting, Perreault said that her body language and eye contact indicated that she was actively listening.
“We each had an opportunity to speak, and some told their stories — some very difficult detailed and graphic stories,” Perreault said in a phone interview Friday night. “She expressed sadness and sympathy at what happened to us. And that was it. I think we were all really nervous. I think looking back, I would have said, what do you have to say to people like us?”
On Friday, Sen. Collins gave an hour-long speech on the senate floor justifying her support for confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault and misconduct. In her speech, she said that while she believed sexual assault survivors like Dr. Ford, and that her testimony was “sincere, painful, and compelling,” her specific allegations “fail to meet the more-likely-than-not standard.”
“If she’s saying that about Dr. Ford and the other people who have come forward, then she’s saying the same thing about us,” Perreault said. “For her to not give credence to these women who came forward, it’s complete bullshit.”
“She’s like everyone else, it’s like a mass brainwashing in our culture that women make this stuff up,” she added. “And you wonder why people don’t tell. Nobody’s gonna believe you.”
Sen. Susan Collins on Dr. Ford's allegation against Brett Kavanaugh: "I do not believe that these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the Court." https://t.co/A1jMt3YRLi pic.twitter.com/caXwqgRudH
— ABC News (@ABC) October 5, 2018
“She was horrifying. She betrayed women in Maine who had come and told their stories to her. She betrayed women across the country,” said Diane Russell, who served in the Maine House of Representatives between 2008 and 2016. “And quite frankly, there’s a special place in hell for women who cover for rapists.”
Russell organized two busloads of Maine women — most of whom were survivors of sexual assault — to come to Washington, DC over the last two weeks to try and persuade Sen. Collins to vote against Kavanaugh.
“She looked them in the eye, and on the floor of the senate, and she said that she believed. But it just tells me that it doesn’t matter anymore if people believe you. She didn’t care,” Russell told Grit Post. “She cut a deal, and she put her career ahead of the women that had told her their stories.”
In July, just prior to President Trump nominating Kavanaugh to fill the seat vacated by retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, Sen. Collins said that she wouldn’t vote to confirm any judge who would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that rendered the criminalization of abortion unconstitutional.
Even though she’s a Republican, NARAL Pro-Choice America gave her a score of 45, showing that Maine’s senior U.S. Senator is at least somewhat sensitive to concerns about contraceptive care and access to abortion. However, her support for Kavanaugh flies in the face of her promise to not confirm anti-Roe judges. Leaked documents from his time as George W. Bush’s staff secretary show that Kavanaugh once urged his colleagues to not refer to Roe as settled law, since the court “can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”
With both Collins and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) both promising to vote with 49 other Senate Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh — Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is voting no — Kavanaugh’s confirmation appears inevitable. Despite being relatively politically inactive, Catherine Perreault said her senator’s decision to support Kavanaugh has “radicalized” her.
“When I heard about Senator Collins’ announcement, I felt gutted. I was just gutted. I felt like someone just completely tore my guts out and threw them on the sidewalk. It was like, wow. It just really didn’t matter,” Perreault told Grit Post. “At the same time, I’m not gonna stop… I think it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“If telling our stories isn’t enough, I’m wondering what more we need to do?” She continued. “This wasn’t enough? Then sit back, because now we’re coming.”
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.