IT was the hand over her mouth to muffle her screams that was the worst part, she says. This was the action that had “the most lasting impact” on Christine Blasey Ford in the years that were to follow.

It was 1982, she was 15 years old, and the reason she is talking about the alleged incident years later is that the man she is accusing of sexual assault, Brett Kavanaugh, has been nominated by Donald Trump to serve on the US Supreme Court.

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This is the person whom Blasey Ford says pinned her to a bed, thrust his body against hers and tried to remove her clothes after he, or possibly his accomplice, pushed her from behind into a first-floor bedroom during an impromptu house party. She believed she would be raped. The boys were drunk and laughing, she says, and her assailant was thwarted by the fact that she was wearing a swimming costume under her clothes. She says that although he did nothing directly to help her, the other boy jumping on the bed provided her with the opportunity to escape.

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Because she was not raped, afterwards, she says, she tried to convince herself that: “I should be able to move on and just pretend that it had never happened.”

That, of course, is what the vast majority of sexual assault victims try to do. Very few make reports to the police, and many tell no-one at all. Blasey Ford says that in the years after the alleged incident she did speak to close friends about being assaulted, but until this summer had not told anyone apart from her therapist that Kavanaugh was the perpetrator.

Yesterday, as she appeared before the US Senate Judiciary Committee to give evidence, she said: “I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

She told how over the years she tried to suppress memories of the alleged incident because “recounting the details caused me to relive the experience, and caused panic attacks and anxiety”. That was her description of recounting these details in private. Yesterday, she recounted them under oath, on camera, then was subjected to grilling by Republican politicians, who took turns with a former sex crimes prosecutor asking questions.

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Her voice wobbled as she told how she had agonised over whether or not to give evidence, and in doing so put herself and her family in the spotlight. In the end, she says the decision was made for her – journalists began hounding her and those close to her, telling her it was inevitable her identity would be made public.

She said: “I have had to relive my trauma in front of the entire world, and have seen my life picked apart by people on television” – at this point her eyes flicked briefly to the camera trained on her – “in the media and in this body who have never met me or spoken with me.” As a viewer, it’s hard not to feel complicit in the further victimisation of a woman who could never have imagined she would find herself in this situation.

This is not a trial. Senators will not hand down a verdict of guilty or not guilty. They will not rule on whether they believe Blasey Ford. They will merely vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, deciding whether this is a man who should have a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

There can be no positive outcome for Blasey Ford. Yes, if Kavanaugh’s appointment is blocked she may feel she has done her civic duty – with potentially far-reaching positive consequences for fellow Americans who wish to see landmark Supreme Court rulings such as Roe vs Wade protected – but this will come at massive personal cost. Her family has already received death threats and been forced to flee their home, and that happened before yesterday’s hearing.

The news this week that reports of sexual crime in Scotland have soared – with a 99% increase in rape reports since 2010 – was shocking. And while Police Scotland sought to assuage fears by suggesting more women are feeling comfortable about coming forward, Rape Crisis Scotland urged caution about any simplistic reading of the figures, pointing out that we simply do not know whether more sexual crimes are being committed.

The #MeToo movement may have empowered survivors to speak out about their experiences, but speaking out and going to the police are two very different things. It’s widely known that very few rape reports result in a trial, let alone conviction, and that being forced to give evidence is experienced by many survivors as further victimisation. Some will be well aware of this but believe that it is their duty to report their experiences.

Even if there is no prosecution, there is still a chance that others might be protected. But yesterday’s harrowing testimony brings home the potential personal cost of performing such a duty.

Christine Blasey Ford knows how she will be remembered by millions of people she has never met and never will. These people won’t know about her expertise in designing statistical models, or her academic publications about child abuse, the psychological impact of 9/11, or the use of acupuncture for treating depression. They will remember a terrified woman with a quavering voice, talking about something she says she’s spent a lifetime trying to forget.