Since Christine has come forward with her story of being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, there have been a lot of questions and comments. As a sexual assault survivor myself and a trauma therapist who has worked with dozens of sexual assault survivors, I would like to try and answer some of the questions that I have heard and even been asked directly.
Question #1- Why didn’t she tell anyone at the time this incident occurred?
She was 15 years old, scared and having a trauma reaction. Many assaults occur by people who are known to the victim. Sometimes the perpetrator threatens to harm the person if they tell anyone. Many young survivors are afraid if they tell a parent they will get in “trouble”. Many victims are blamed with statements such as “you shouldn’t have been at that party”, “you shouldn’t have been drinking”, “your flirting brought this on”, “the way you dressed caused this”, “he’s a good boy, you must be mistaken”, “you are a slut, whore, etc”. These are just a few of the things that are said to victims. Many victims/survivors are afraid no one will believe them. That was her worst fear coming forward now, I’m sure. Not only did many people not believe her, some people made death threats against her and her family. Now, wouldn’t that be a reason some people may not come forward?
Secondly, a typical trauma reaction is to shut down and try and forget about what happened. But no one ever forgets. Sometimes the event is packed away in the recesses of the mind and resurfaces years later when current events occur that trigger the body and mind. I’ve personally had the experience of early childhood sexual abuse by a known perpetrator that I only remembered after undergoing somatic body work by a trusted friend. My body knew for a long time that something had occurred as I would have atypical reactions to hearing about childhood sexual abuse. For years I had suicidal thoughts and no idea where they were coming from. Once the memories surfaced, I was not surprised and it confirmed for me a lot of things I had felt over the years. My memories were validated by others in my family when I shared them. I went through some intense therapy for several years after this and to this day from time to time have to do some healing work. Since the “#Metoo” movement began, I and other survivors, have been triggered a lot. How do we speak our truth? Where do I speak my truth? Will speaking my truth help someone else? Will I make myself too vulnerable in speaking my truth? Will my family support me in speaking my truth?Question #2-One of the other questions people have had is “how can she be sure it was him?”, “maybe her memory is wrong.”
These incidents are recorded in the brain. When they occur with someone who is known to the victim, they remember who it was, the voice, the smell, the face, all of it. Sometimes, a survivor will dissociate during the incident, which is when the mind separates from the body as a way to cope and survive the trauma. However, the mind is still present and recording the experience.
I have experienced other types of sexual assault. Once, three boys in the neighborhood dragged me into the woods with two of them holding my arms back and the other one fondling me. My “fight” response kicked in and I kicked the one touching me in the groin and was able to get away. I still remember his name and face. I never told anyone. This happened again with a few boys on the front lawn of his house. I remember who it was and I never told. Other incidents of boys grabbing my breasts, calling me names, smacking/pinching my rear end, all occurred multiple times. The only incident I ever told anyone about was when I was 15 years old: While riding my bike, a guy in a gold Camaro stopped and asked for directions. When I got closer to the car I saw he was masturbating. I took off on my bike and rode home with my heart pounding. I remembered the type of car, as it was distinctive. I told my mom and we did call the police to report what happened. I don’t know if he was ever caught.
Of all the incidents I experienced, except for that one, I knew who the perpetrator was. Survivors remember, even when it is hard to acknowledge that it was someone known to them.
Question # 3-Well….what is sexual assault really?
As I’ve shared with my daughter, sexual assault can range from name calling, leering at a woman’s body and making sexual comments, to incest and rape. There are many types of assault under this umbrella, such as fondling, oral sex, forcing someone to watch porn and/or strip, etc. The primary elements are that it is unwanted, unsolicited, there is a power differential, and the victim feels extremely unsafe and threatened. I’ve had women share with me that their fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, etc. have made sexual comments on their bodies, have looked them up and down and smiled, and have made sexual comments about other women in front of them, and all of this was unwanted, unsolicited, and made them feel extremely uncomfortable and threatened. This is sexual assault. I’ve had women share that they have been fondled over their clothes by uncles, step-fathers, brothers, cousins, neighbors, friends of parents, etc., and that is sexual assault. I’ve had women share that they have been sexually abused (fondled, raped, forced to do sexual acts while being watched, etc.) by fathers, mothers, grandparents, coaches, priests, ministers, boyfriends, husbands, teachers, etc., and that is sexual assault. Some of these incidents were one time and many of them continued over months and years.
In the last year or so women and men are finding the courage to share their stories of sexual assault, abuse and trauma. This is the beginning of finding more ways to heal and hold perpetrators accountable. Education is key in changing the way people understand sexual abuse and trauma. We need more open dialogue on this and movement to change statute of limitations for survivors.
I am using my voice and sharing my story for my own healing and in hopes that others will find the courage to share theirs as that is a big part of the healing process.