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The recent appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court was preceded by a highly contentious appointment hearing. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward in an anonymous op-ed detailing the horrifying assault she endured when she was fifteen years old at the hands of seventeen-year-old Brett Kavanaugh. Reporters searched for her identity and that is when Dr. Ford went public with her allegations and eventually testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In her sworn testimony, Dr. Ford recounted the details of the assault and her fear of being accidentally killed. Her testimony was supplemented by the details she shared in a therapy session back in 2012 and a recently administered polygraph exam. The therapy session triggered by a disagreement she had with her husband over a request for a double door in her home. It was then she first recounted the details of her assault, believing establishing alternate escape routes in her own home would help ease her concerns. Traumatic events like sexual assault can develop into psychopathology long after the triggering event occurred and can continue to affect a person throughout their lifetime. Dr. Ford presented a compelling narrative, she characterized her attacker as a binge drinker this was supported by the friends and roommates familiar with the character of Judge Kavanaugh at the time.
However, none of these people were asked to testify, it was clear that the hearing was to create the appearance of due diligence rather than an honest assessment of Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve in the highest court. Dr. Ford’s testimony was questioned because she could not specifically recall minute details surrounding the night that had nothing to do with the assault. Dr. Ford a psychology professor and researcher stated “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and having fun at my expense” (1). We studied in lecture that often victims do not remember the entirety of the peripheral details surrounding the traumatic experience. Often the body can respond this way before and after a stressor occurs. Many women and survivors shared their personal experiences with sexual trauma and how that has affected them in their day to day lives.
Especially in the wake of the Me Too movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that spread through social media. A number of celebrities passed, and current sexual misconduct allegations came out and global society was forced to reexamine the culture that had enabled this behavior. Survivors shared how they found themselves reliving their traumatic experiences. Analogous to the class discussion surrounding celebrities who committed suicide correlated to an uptick in suicides and calls to the suicide hotline. The coverage of traumatic and triggering events appears to elicit a strong response from the public. Trauma is risk factor for developing psychopathology. We learned that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders and that they are more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse.
Additionally, the gender-based expectations placed on men and women’s behaviors influence their chances of reporting symptoms or facing their fears. How a survivor responds to trauma and sexual violence is highly individualized. Some can develop chronic psychopathologies and conversely others can display little to no distress. Their response is influenced by the environment, availability of support and resources and the characteristics of the assault. Abuse and assault must be destigmatized, these crimes are incredibly underreported, and when reported they are done weeks or even years after the stressor occurred delaying necessary therapy and medical treatment thus increasing the likelihood of developing psychopathology.
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