Long before I was a journalist or a wellness coach, I was a sexual assault survivor. I wrote the post below after the Kavanaugh hearings — for survivors and those who care about making the world better.
In light of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, this subject is even more crucial. And painful. I hope you personally don’t resonate with it, but it’s almost certain that someone you care about does. Please read. Share. Remember. VOTE.
And if, by some quirk of fate, you are a Republican, I urge you to think deeply about your values.
*TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT*
This is not a blog post I ever thought I’d write. It’s not something I ever planned to put on paper at all. It’s not in the book I’ve been working on for what seems like ages (only half-joking that I can’t finish it until certain people have died.) What’s happened in the past week however … what crystallized in the Senate GOP’s figurative repeat of the assault on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford yesterday, now has me sitting in front of the keyboard, piecing together sentences through my tears.
I was 13, I think. My father had died not long before. I was in my room at home, in my favorite chair, reading, when the door opened and one of my parents’ friends strode into the room, loomed over me and thrust his tongue down my throat and both hands down my shirt. I hadn’t kissed a boy yet and suddenly an elderly man was groping my breasts so hard it hurt and suffocating me with his tongue. A man whom my parents had always told me to call “Uncle”. It took a moment before I could acknowledge what was happening. I felt betrayed. Disgusted. Violated. I froze, in what I now know is one of the three neurobiological reactions to trauma: fight, flight and freeze*. My brain simply stopped working, then I wrenched myself away from him. He made a vile comment about my body, chuckled and walked out of my room, closing the door behind him. I cried.
I don’t remember the time of day, the day of the week or even what season it was. I don’t remember anything else about that day. But even now, what seems a lifetime later, I remember what it felt like. It was unforgivable.
I never told my mother. I knew she wouldn’t believe me. Not just because she was grieving but because, like Brett Kavanaugh, she became enraged if anyone had the audacity to disturb her carefully circumscribed world of entitlement. It didn’t matter that I was her daughter.
I never said a word about it to anyone except a therapist, many years later. Then, a handful of years ago, I told a friend. She’d grown up in another country – one where assaults on women are common, and if reported, result in even greater horrors for the woman. She brushed off my disclosure with a callous “So what? It happens.” (I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised when, after I was assaulted at my home not long after that conversation, she told me in utter seriousness, “Everything bad that’s happened to you in your life is your fault.” Our friendship didn’t survive.)
For many more years, I said nothing about what had happened in my childhood. There were other small assaults. My first kiss with a boy was memorable not for its breathless pleasure but because the boy mashed his mouth and tongue on mine at the insistence of his friend and the friend’s girlfriend. I hadn’t consented. I hadn’t even been consulted. Years later, in college, another man groped me in front of his girlfriend in the middle of a public hallway. She didn’t object. She didn’t say a word.
There are other stories, but the crucial point to remember is: This is what women contend with, in varying degrees of violation, All. The. Time.
Women, support your sisters. If your knee-jerk response is to yell “How dare they ruin the life of a good man like Brett Kavanaugh with mere allegations?!”, stop and consider what you’ve been taught, that you immediately assume the man is right and the woman is lying. Or worse, that the woman isn’t lying but her life isn’t as important as the man’s.
Men, stand up when you see another man disrespecting a woman physically, or when you hear him talking about her like she’s been put on earth to be his plaything, or his maid, or his punching bag. Support the men who’ve been assaulted too. It’s not easy for anyone to admit to this kind of degradation. We’ve been taught it’s our fault. It’s not. Don’t shame anyone further.
No one knows what will come to light from the FBI’s investigation into the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. What we’ve seen already is damning on so many levels: His belligerence to Senators. His suspect financial and legal transactions. His contemptuous dismissal of three credible women who have nothing to gain from alerting Congress to their assaults, and are instead giving up their anonymity to be publicly judged and threatened while they re-live their trauma.
I never imagined I’d see our country’s future hinge on so many fraying threads: What happens to the Supreme Court. To our elections. To our economy. Our healthcare. Our compassion.
What gives me hope is seeing people admit to pain they never dared breathe before and, most often, being comforted by others. I’m reminded of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with gold so that the breakages, the damaged history, are not hidden but are transformed into something beautiful and treasured. I hope we can follow that example.
So please: Believe Survivors. And vote.
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IF YOU’RE A SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVOR AND NEED HELP: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network/National Sexual Assault Hotline - Call 1-800-656-4673, available 24 hours every day
CHECK YOUR VOTING STATUS: (I recommend you do this every few weeks; people are being removed from the voting rolls without reason) https://www.vote.org/am-i-registered-to-vote/
REGISTER TO VOTE: https://www.vote.org/register-to-vote/
FIND OUT VOTING REGISTRATION DEADLINES, STATE-BY-STATE: https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/
* National Institute of Justice The Research, Development, and Evaluation Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice - Transcript "The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault", Rebecca Campbell , Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Michigan State University, https://nij.gov/multimedia/presenter/presenter-campbell/pages/presenter-campbell-transcript.aspx