My long, sometimes-forgotten history with violence

Actress Emma Caulfield Ford opens up about the four times she was assaulted—and how she's ready to tell her story
By Emma Caulfield Ford    Published on 08/14/2018 at 1:42 PM EDT
Karri Bowman

There’s something about me that only one or two people know: I’ve been physically assaulted a whopping four times in my life. Yet for the most part, I had forgotten about it. 

(Before I explain, I should warn you that these assaults are violent. If you’ve been attacked, this could be triggering. But I hope in telling my story, that you will find a way to voice your “forgotten” stories, too.)

Do you ever hear a song from your childhood playing somewhere random? BAM! Suddenly, you smell the perfume you once wore, or see trees whizzing by you from the back seat of your parents’ car. Time goes by, and you forget all about that song you were happy to have remembered. Until one day, years later, you hear the song play once more. And you say, I remember this song! I remember when I remembered it after having forgotten about it the first time… It’s like that.

The first time I was assaulted I was 8 years old. It was recess time at school, and the two most popular boys in class were playing soccer. Oh man, did I have crushes on them. They were the dreamiest little punks, and I so wanted them to like me back. They didn’t. They were mean to me if they spoke to me at all.

It was my mom who said something like, “The meaner they are to you, the more they must like you.” In my head I didn’t think that made any sense, but she was my mom, and she knew stuff. I think she followed it up with, “Boys are so dumb at that age.” We had variations of that talk throughout my childhood. (P.S. I love you mom. You are the best.)

Anyway, the popular boys… I remember their names, the color of their hair, and (in retrospect) their bad taste in clothes. Watching them do anything was basically the highlight of my every day. They knew it, too. They liked the attention. I don’t remember exactly how Crush A fell down. I think he tripped over the soccer ball and fell into a bush. l laughed, of course. To this day, people falling down unexpectedly is my kind of humor. I wasn’t mocking him. I was simply reacting. But the moment Crush A saw me laughing “at” him, I was in trouble. With unnatural speed Crush A and Crush B pounced. Pinned against a fence, I was unable to move away from their steady stream of hard kicks.

“Fuck you!”
“You think it’s so funny?!” “Fuck you!”

With boys’ shoes, dust from kicked up sand, and a hard chain link fence all around me, I thought, “If I don’t fight back, they’ll stop and let me go.” They did once they were satisfied they taught me a lesson.

“Ignore the bullies, Emma,” I told myself. “They just want attention.” So I didn’t report them to the teachers. I didn’t tell my parents. I don’t know why, but I just kept quiet. As I cried in the girls’ bathroom alone, I looked at my bruises, and all I could think was, “I just hope no one saw.”

“That’s so fucked up, Emma,” you might think. Yeah, I know.

The second time I was assaulted I was 12 years old. This time I was at some girl’s pool party. I think her name was Carla, but I can’t remember for certain. I went hoping to have a good time. I surely needed one. Seventh grade was rough for me. I had braces, a bad haircut, super pale skin (the bullies called me “Casper”) and few friends.

I spent most of my time in the pool, stepping out only to grab a drink or use the bathroom. I don’t think I talked to that many people. None of my few friends were there, but I made the best of it. Overall, it was a nice Saturday afternoon… until it wasn’t.

I don’t remember the moment before I was under the water. All I remember is being forcibly held under it against my will. The boy didn’t go to my school. I don’t remember exchanging so much as a “hello” with him. He was next to me, and then he was above me. Just like that. Like a crocodile turning over its prey. With every claw, slap, punch and kick I could muster, I still couldn’t break his hold on me. I saw tiptoes grazing the pool’s bottom, a bouncy ball floating nearby. Other kids just out of arm’s reach. I could see the lifeguard standing vigil, but his attention was in the wrong direction. I kept thinking, “Someone will see me and make him stop.” No one did. I started to fade. I was weak and about to give up. I thought, “This is it. I can’t hold my breath any longer. I’m going to drown.”

Then a way out came: “Pretend you’ve already drowned, Emma. Then he’ll let you go.” And within seconds, that’s exactly what he did. I broke free from his grip, made my way back up to the surface and out of the pool.  He reached out for me, but I got away. I was in shock. I was crying but without tears or sound. No one comforted me. I was invisible. The whole event went entirely unnoticed. He went right on playing in the pool like nothing had happened. And what I did I do?

I said nothing. I told no one. I called my mom to come pick me up. “Did you have a good time?” she asked me. “Yeah, I did,” I lied. We listened to music and I made patterns out of rows of trees. I never mentioned a word of it in the car, or at any time thereafter. I cried in my bedroom later that night. While it was happening, I just wanted someone to see. But alone in my room, later, I thought, “I just hope no one saw.”

“That’s so fucked up, Emma,” you might think. Yeah, I know.

The third time I was assaulted I was 21 years old. It was a typical weekday morning. My then-boyfriend left for work and asked if I could walk his dog, Blu. I had a love/hate relationship with Blu. His favorite activity was to shower me with kisses, then when my guard was down, find my shoes and eat them. I grabbed his leash, locked the door and headed down to “the wash.” That’s what the locals called the walk path by the Los Angeles River. Normally the wash was full of activity: joggers, bikers, actors with audition pages trying to memorize their lines, and makeshift dog walkers like me. But that morning, it was just me and the dog.

I was nearing the end of my 30-minute walk, about to exit the path, when I saw a man with his dog enter. I instinctively reached for the leash, which I had let go of sometime earlier. Within seconds, the man’s dog lunged for Blu, and we were in the middle of a dog fight. Before I was able to pull Blu away, the man, with his steel-tipped boots, kicked Blu in the stomach. Again and again, he kicked him. Blu was down, injured and not moving. I screamed, “STOP! STOP! YOU’RE GOING TO KILL HIM!”  

He stopped then turned his rage onto me.

With one hand, he grabbed me by the throat and pinned me against the chain link fence. He was inches away from my face. He seemed almost possessed. His eyes were laser-focused on me. His mouth was twitching. One hand was on my throat. The other, now a clenched fist, hung in the air. I thought, “This is it. He’s either going to rape me, kill me, or both.”

Then, a second man appeared in the distance. My attacker didn’t see him, but I did. I thought if I can just keep that fist away from face for a few minutes longer, maybe I’ll be alright, that help would come if I could just hang in there.

While it was happening, I just wanted someone to see. But alone in my room, later, I thought, “I just hope no one saw.”

Over and over he said, “You fucking bitch. I’m going to kill you. You fucking bitch I’m going to kill you.”  I knew I needed to start bargaining, so I opened my mouth and said, “You don’t want to do this. It’s okay.”

“You fucking bitch.”
“Just let me go. It’s okay. It’s over now. Just let me go. You want to let me go.”
“Fucking bitch. Fucking bitch.”
“It’s over. You don’t want to do this. It’s going to be okay.”

I repeated those words over and over, never breaking eye contact. With my right hand I gently pulled his hand from my throat. I reached down and grabbed the leash. His fist began to unclench. I got Blu onto his feet and said, “I’m leaving now.”  He was still muttering “bitch, bitch,” but more to himself, like in a trance.

I was no more than five feet from him, when his trance broke, and he said, “I’m going to kill you, you fucking cunt.”

I think it was the word cunt, that did it for me. All concerns for my safety went out the window. Without any thought of the consequences, I faced him squarely and screamed, “FUUUUCK YOOUU!”

Oh man. That was it. His FIST. My FACE. My BODY on the ground.  

Within seconds my attacker was subdued by the man I mentioned earlier. “You never hit a woman ever!” I remember him saying. “Are you all right?” he kept asking me. “Do you want me to call the police?” I just stood there. I couldn’t seem to get any words to come out of my mouth.

I saw my attacker sitting on the ground rocking back and forth, confused at what he had done. He looked how I felt. I was in my body, but out of my body. Then I saw Blu’s bloody face, and I ran. The good samaritan yelled after me, but I didn’t answer him. I was free—that’s all I knew. I don’t know if he called the police or not. I never filed a report. I don’t know why. I made sure Blu was okay, and then I took a long hot shower. I may have caused a drought I was in there for so long.

We took Blu to the vet later to make sure there wasn’t any internal bleeding; luckily, he was just bruised. Obviously, I had to mention the event to my boyfriend later, but I downplayed my part in it. I said I just wanted to forget about it. And I did forget about it. Until I remembered it again like an old song.

“That’s so fucked up, Emma,” you might think. Yeah, I know.

The fourth time I was assaulted I was 29 years old. It was 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. I was in my best friend’s car; a green soft-top Miata. She had taken me to see an acupuncturist in West Hollywood earlier in the afternoon. I was suffering from wicked free-floating anxiety and she said acupuncture was supposed to help. (It did.)

We were stopped at a light in Los Feliz, less than a mile from my house, when a white van coming from the opposite direction, slammed on its brakes, made a hard left, and stopped in front of our car. I could hear my friend scream—“Get down! It’s a gun!”—but I couldn’t move. I was completely frozen.

I saw the blacked-out window roll down, and the machine gun appear, but I was totally useless to do anything about it. Like the attack from before, it felt like I was in my body but outside my body. Bullets were flying everywhere. Glass from the front window was shattering. The sound of her car being hit was like hail hitting a tin roof.  

Ping! P-p-p-p-p ping! Ping!

I can see my knees slowly getting closer to my face. I say slowly because I moved at a snail’s pace. Finally, my friend and I were eye to eye. It felt like the bullets would never stop coming but then the van peeled away and suddenly it was quiet again. “Dude, are you okay?” she asked. “I think they’re gone.”  

“I’m okay,” I said. We made a quick assessment of our injuries. There were none. Miraculously, neither one of us had been hit. We scrambled to get out of the car, but the doors had been jammed shut by the bullets.

I just wanted to forget about it. And I did forget about it. Until I remembered it again like an old song.

“Are you guys okay? The police are on their way,” I heard someone say. We crawled out of the shattered windows and ran to safety. Within minutes the area was closed off by the police. I looked at her car then to the bullet casings on the ground. (We learned later that our shooting was part of a gang initiation. The van had been involved with another shooting earlier that day.)

“You shouldn’t be alive,” I heard one of the policemen say. “It’s a miracle you both are standing here.” He was right: A semi-automatic unloaded its entire magazine, at two women, in a soft-top convertible, at close range. And we survived.

I felt then, as I had several times before, that I was spared for reasons I don’t understand. That night I went out and celebrated my apparent invincibility. I could cheat death! I was in a drive-by shooting and survived! I was euphoric. And that euphoria lasted for about two weeks, until one day at work, I broke down in tears. I think I cried every day for a year. My therapist at the time said she thought I was suffering from PTSD. She assured me I would get through it.

“Tenacious.” “Strong.” “Resilient.” “Funny.” These were words she used to describe me. She also said I had an uncanny ability to compartmentalize events and emotions. Then she asked me if I had any previous experience with violence. Were there any other points in my past where I felt afraid for my life? Was I hurt physically or psychologically in any way?

Without hesitation I said, “No, not that I can remember.”

“That’s so fucked up, Emma,” you might think. Yeah, I know.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this all out. This isn’t a #MeToo thing. I’m not looking for solidarity or solace. But maybe my story can help someone else to come forward to tell, accept and embrace his or her story.

I regret not speaking up before. I wish I had stood up for myself more than I did then. It’s likely those who hurt me went on to hurt others. But now, I believe if I ever encountered violence again, I would fight back. I would scream, run, hit back. TELL. If not for me, than for my daughter. She will know how to speak up. She will know to fight back. And if she can’t, I’ll do it for her.

As Maya Angelou once said, and Oprah thereafter, “You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”

If you have been the victim of assault, please contact the National Center for Victims of Crime. They have a number of resources available to assist you regain control, including a national hotline, VictimConnect, which can be reached by phone at 1-855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846) or by online chat. Visit for more information.

Explore These Topics:
Grok Nation Comment Policy

We welcome thoughtful, grokky comments—keep your negativity and spam to yourself. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.