Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh Testimony May Trigger Trauma In Sex Assault Victims

“People who have been sexually traumatized will try to avoid to anything that will be a trigger to the trauma"

What to Know

  • Christine Blasey Ford testified for about four hours, spoke carefully, deliberately and occasionally scientifically
  • Brett Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations from Ford and other women
  • Every 98 seconds someone is a victim of sexual assault, according to RAINN

The sexual assault allegation by Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and other allegations of sexual misconduct that have emerged leading up to Thursday's Senate hearing have sparked wall-to-wall news coverage.

To some survivors of sexual assault and victims of abuse, the hearings and testimony may trigger trauma, according to their advocates.

“People who have been sexually traumatized will try to avoid anything that will be a trigger to the trauma. This is something that’s pretty hard to avoid," said John E. Jannes, PhD., associate executive director of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island. "It’s not like you cannot elect to go to this ‘movie.’ It’s on the internet. It’s on the television. It’s on 24/7.” 

Sexual assault is a topic that remains taboo, but it's also not uncommon.

Every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault, according to Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that oversees the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-4673.

RAINN spokeswoman Sara McGovern said the National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 147% increase above normal volume on the day of the Kavanaugh and Ford testimony.

RAINN tweeted the organization also experienced unprecedented wait times for its online chat. 

“We are angry about the things that have happened to us. We’re angry that it happens to other people. We’re angry that, for a long time, we weren’t able to talk about it,” sexual assault survivor Aminatou Sow told The New York Times earlier this week. Sow went on to say the way the news media reports about sexual violence can often cause harm.

One 76-year-old caller into CSPAN during the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing recalled her own experience being molested in second grade by another student in seventh grade.  

"This brings back so much pain," she said. "Thought I was over it but it's not. You will never forget it. You get confused and you don't understand it but you never forget what happened to you." 

She said she hadn't brought up her experience for years, and hearing Ford's testimony was "just breaking my heart."

Several other people called into CSPAN as well to share their experiences and voice support for Ford.

After 35 years of experience treating victims of sexual trauma, Jannes said Ford’s testimony and courage to come forward may have a positive impact and helps victims.

“Both young men and young women who have had experiences that meet the definition of sexual trauma and who were afraid to report may now be empowered to report it,” said Jannes.

Jannes said that the Ford-Kavanaugh case "may stimulate conversations between parents and their adolescents ... and that is a good thing."

"Adolescent girls who are empowered and adolescent boys who are mindful how they behave,” Jannes said.

The nation is watching closely following Ford's testimony in which Ford alleged with “100 percent” certainty that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while in high school. The historic hearing is a rare occurrence, and has echoes of Anita Hill’s testimony in 1991 when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Both Ford and Kavanaugh were questioned by senators and Rachel Mitchell, a former sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, Arizona.

Ford specifically accused Kavanaugh, a United States Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, of sexual violence at a social gathering in the 1980s. Since Ford surfaced her allegation on July 30, two more women have come forward alleging sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. Another accuser is anonymous.

Democrats have called for an FBI investigation into the allegations noting that Kavanaugh’s nomination process should be delayed. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., was among those in his party who rebuked the request for an investigation as politically motivated and put his full support behind Kavanaugh. 

#MeToo founder Tarana Burke sat behind Ford during her testimony and tweeted: “These men are wholly uninterested and unmoved by this woman’s words...Dr. Ford has to talk about the worst trauma of her life in front of them. This is the reality of being survivor of sexual assault in this country. #WeBelieveDrFord #WeBelieveSurvivors #metooMVMT”

The #MeToo movement has been at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness following allegations of sexual violence by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last year.

Just this week, entertainer Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for aggravated indecent assault.

“More than 60 women have self-identified as sexual assault victims of Bill Cosby,” wrote sex assault survivor Andrea Constand in a victim impact statement made public ahead of Cosby’s sentencing.

“When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities. Now, almost 15 years later, I'm a middle-aged woman who's been stuck in a holding pattern for most of her adult life, unable to heal fully or to move forward.” 

During his emotional and at times tearful testimony, Kavanaugh called the events surrounding his nomination a “national disgrace” and a “media circus.”

But it was during Kavanaugh’s testimony that strong reactions were seen on social media regarding the definition of sex assault after he stated he never had sex in high school.

“Sexual assault isn’t about sex, it’s about power,” tweeted Nick Morrow, with the Human Rights Campaign.

Sexual assault includes more than forced intercourse or rape, according to the federal Office on Women's Health. It is "any type of sexual activity or contact, including rape, that happens" with someone who cannot or does not consent and includes rape, attempted rape, sexual coercion, sexual contact with a child, fondling or unwanted touching above or under clothes and exposing oneself to another. 

Sex assault resources are available at the National Sexual Violence Resources Center and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-4673. Since it was first created in 1994, the National Sexual Assault Hotline has helped more than two million people, according to its website.

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