The day after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford delivered a testimony about her sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) had the busiest day in its 24-year history.
According to a press release, the RAINN hotline, which exists to support survivors of sexual violence, saw a 338% increase in hotline traffic between Thursday, the day of the hearing, and that Sunday.
"History shows us that when high-profile allegations such as these are in the news, it often causes others to reach out too. This story has clearly resonated with survivors, and has led thousands to reach out for help for the first time," said RAINN president Scott Berkowitz. "Over this past year, following the cases of Weinstein and Cosby and the explosion of #MeToo, our numbers have been growing pretty rapidly, but we’ve never seen anything like this before."
Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in New York City, says that in the week after the hearing, his practice received more inquiries from people seeking to discuss sexual assault trauma than ever. Lundquist says that his practice has received calls from new and pre-existing patients who are revealing instances of sexual assault for the first time, or who are ready to delve into the repercussions of those instances in ways they hadn't before. Anytime something happens in the news that brings sexual assault to national attention, he says, it can prompt survivors to seek help for their own experiences.
"Each of these moments — the Billy Bush tape, when [Trump] invited Bill [Clinton’s] accusers [to a press conference], the [Harvey] Weinstein story breaking, the day of the Kavanaugh and Ford hearings, when sexual assault survivors confronted Jeff Flake — these moments move people who've had experiences of sexual assault to confront those instances," he says.
In his view, the Kavanaugh hearing may have been especially triggering because it's similar to so many people's experiences.
"The way this was managed, the platform Kavanaugh has to speak in the way he did, and the fact of him being granted a job [afterwards] is so parallel to so many women’s own experiences of being sexually assaulted on a college campus and not taken seriously, the failure of due process, of being scorned," he says.
Debra Kissen, PhD, co-chair of the public education committee at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), says that the proliferation of news from mainstream outlets and social media doesn't help, either.
"I think there's a level of re-traumatizing, where people are trying to make sense of the unthinkable and going on social media, and being inundated," she says.
But in a world where Kavanaugh has now been confirmed to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault and the President of the United States himself has discussed grabbing women "by the pussy," it's hard not to be re-traumatized as a survivor either way. And for those looking to heal, therapy can be a safe space.
"Things aren't safe for women right now — that's been made clear in this process, and we need to fix that," Lundquist says.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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