Response to the Kavanaugh Confirmation… The Trauma After the Trauma

October 9, 2018

Memo to my people:

What do I say to you, when I am fuming?   I want to march in the streets. I want to scream.  Women are scorned for our anger.  The more we are discounted, the more our anger escalates.  I want to say something soothing and reassuring now, but that is not what I have to offer.

Christine Blasey Ford bravely, and reluctantly, recounted her sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, when they were in high school.  We watched her testimony.  Droves of people, outside of the walls of the Senate chamber, supported and believed her.  Many thanked her for her courage.  Some were able to come forth and say they experienced the culture of rape and sexual assault, and validate that it is real and dangerous.  Others said they too know the places she traveled because they were there, too.  They saw and heard, if not these men, then other men like them, laughing.  We became compassionate witnesses.  We all wanted to say I am sorry this happened to you, to us.

There was a swell of women’s voices, and men’s voices too, who understand the lasting impact of sexual assault and its power to continue to damage lives, to intrude uninvited in our most important relationships. That mattered.

But I am shaken, maybe naively (though as a trauma therapist naiveté is not my standard fare) by the outcome.  I have long taught therapists and survivors about the significance of what happens after a survivor discloses.  If they are believed and are met with an empathic and protective response, the prognosis for recovery is promising.  If they are not believed, or blamed for the assault, we call this the trauma after the trauma.  The process of healing is more fraught and the survivors’ well-being is then more precarious.

I think an overwhelming majority of people believe Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, even the people who claim to doubt. Yet there was no accountability.  The man she accused of sexual assault was honored, promoted to a seat on the Supreme Court where he will decide cases that affect women and girls for many years to come.

We collectively witnessed the hearings and the decision that followed, and we too were distressed. We too experienced the trauma after the trauma.

What I want to say to my clients, my students, and to the all the survivors we cherish is: You have the right to be disturbed, and to take time to heal. We need to create circles with our friends, neighbors or trusted colleagues where we can continue to make meaning of what happened to us this week.  We need to shiver, rage, and weep together.  Then, or after a while, we can find a path to healing that empowers us, helps us inform others about sexual assault, and makes us even more determined not to be silenced.

Laurie Kahn

Director, Womencare Counseling and Training Center