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Kavanaugh-Ford Hearings: how it forced us sexual assault survivors to re-live a trauma

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Around a month ago, I received judgmental glares on the 91 bus towards Crouch End as I cried hysterically watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford pour her heart out to 20 million viewers.

These tears were both of defeat and solidarity towards this courageous woman. I had a gut-wrenching feeling that Judge Brett Kavanaugh would find his way into the Supreme Court. I wish I had not been right. After being accused of sexual assault by several women, he will soon be making laws about their bodies and their rights.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford // Credit: Ninian Reid

Reliving a trauma

Some of us grieve in silence; some of us courageously confront senator Jeff Flake in an elevator and some of us ask our loved ones for help. But for all of us, there’s a common denominator - re-living our trauma. For I and millions of others, the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing triggered memories that had been repressed for years.

During the Ford hearing, the National Sexual Assault hotline in the US saw a 147% increase in calls. That day, September 28th, was the busiest day in the history of the hotline, with more than 3,000 people asking for help. Over 28,000 survivors called the hotline after re-experiencing the original pain and humiliation of their trauma throughout the course of the month of September.

Over a month ago, Dr. Jamila Peritt, a certified OBGYN, told Forbes, “the most important thing I say to patients when they have the ability and the space in the room to disclose what has happened to them is ‘I believe you’…That is the absolute opposite of what's being said (in the hearings), and casting all kinds of aspersions on someone's lived experience in and of itself is traumatising, both to those have experienced sexual assault but also to those of us who are connected to individuals who have experienced it”.

Questioning the credibility and reputations of victims

Dr. Ford’s credibility and reputation were questioned throughout the hearing. After receiving death threats and being forced to move out of her home due to harassment, she was also publicly scrutinised by many, including the President of the United States. Trump questioned her credibility numerous times, calling Dr. Ford “evil” and mocking her testimony. Let me remind you these comments come from a man who in 2016 suggested his own accuser was too ugly for him to rape. The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr, has also said he feared more for his son´s lives than his daughter’s lives, after the accusations against Kavanaugh surfaced.

These comments are not just incredibly insulting and insensitive towards survivors, but reflective of our society’s lack of education on sexual assault. Statistics show men are more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape. According to the FBI, only 2% of all rape and sexual assault charges are determined to be false. Nevertheless, the right-wing media promote a message of distrust towards accusers and manage to victimise men against the #MeToo movement.

#WhyIDidntReport

The outcome of the hearing forced survivors to revisit all the reasons sexual assault goes unreported, which could have led survivors to become even more fearful and hesitant than ever to tell their stories. To the surprise and even dislike of many, this event in American politics has galvanised a movement of women like never before. It created an outpour of #MeToo posts on social media and was trending in at least 85 countries, with 1.7m tweets.

As a response to Trump’s twitter rant attacking Ford’s decision to only report her attack 36 years after the fact, #WhyIDidntReport also began circling through twitter. In under two days, 675,000 tweets of survivors recounting why it took them many years to talk about their attack were shared. This included discourse by several celebrities, such as Lili Reinhart and Ashley Judd, who decided to share their stories. Alyssa Milano, an actress and sexual assault survivor, wrote a piece for Vox arguing “victims of sexual assault often don't report what happened because they know all too well that our stories are rarely taken seriously or believed — and that when it comes to sexual misconduct, our justice system is broken”.

"I love you" is not consent

I believe this all goes beyond a broken justice system. It stems from a broken society where rape culture prevails. Rape culture does not just involve normalising sexual violence and asking a woman what she was wearing or if she was intoxicated. Rape culture is also teaching women how to avoid getting raped, and questioning the details of their experience when it happens.

Writing this piece and feeling paralysed at times, I have been reminded of why I decided to not report my own experience of sexual assault at the age of 14. He was my first love and despite the unhealthy power dynamics that came with a large age gap, my family and friends loved him. I knew no one would believe me and even if they did, they would not consider it sexual assault. I feared I would be slut-shamed and that every single detail of my experience would be questioned.

Today, more than ever, this fear consumes me. However, Ford led me to the realisation that this is no longer about me. It is about every single survivor of sexual assault: male, female, and everyone in between.

My morals and values will no longer allow me to remain silent. Today, I know for a fact that an “I love you” is not consent. I know that I was sexually assaulted, despite neglecting this for years and blaming myself. Just like Dr. Ford was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh 36 years ago.

As a survivor of sexual assault, I have decided not to remain silent anymore but if you do, know that I respect your decision and that I still believe you. Even if you decide against using hashtags and social media to tell your story, you are still a part of this revolution. I am incredibly proud of you.

Contact Rape Crisis England Wales here

 

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