Kavanaugh hearing brings back painful memories for local survivors

Reporting

This story was written with the help of two other reporters. I conducted all of the interviews with the survivors.

For some survivors of sexual assault, the way Christine Blasey Ford’s story has progressed is all too familiar.

“The process she’s gone through these past few weeks is exactly what it’s like,” MU student Rachael Diehm said.

Diehm said the grueling criticism and character attacks Ford has endured throughout the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh remind her of why she had trouble speaking up about her own assault.

“I think everyone who comes forward like this knows what they’re getting into,” Diehm, 20, said, adding that she didn’t talk to anyone about what happened to her until she got to college.

A 21-year-old MU student who said she is a survivor of multiple sexual assaults agreed, saying that she wants to know what’s going on in the news but that it’s hard to relive her experience through Ford’s account and the ensuing response to the allegations.

The recent coverage “dredges up the same memories of not being believed,” she said.

The student, who wished to remain anonymous, said she has noticed a change in dialogue in recent years as more men show support for women, and more women continue to share their stories.

Diehm said the problem is now being better addressed, but that doesn’t mean everyone with a sexually traumatizing experience will speak out.

“The ones who come forward, it’s not because they don’t have those fears; it’s because they’re facing them,” Diehm said, adding that part of what made it so hard to speak out is her small hometown is one where everyone knows each other and news travels fast.

“I think visibility is important. Just talking about it, like, making sure people can’t ignore this. Because it’s a problem people face every day,” Diehm said.

There has been an increase in discussions about sexual harassment and sexual assault as a result of the #MeToo movement, MU spokeswoman Liz McCune said in an email.

However, McCune said that she did not have enough information to specify whether there has been a recent increase in students looking for support regarding sexual violence in correlation with the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark also said in an email that the district does not have any data that would indicate the number of students recently seeking help, “nor could we correlate this to any specific national incident.”

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) stresses that reading others’ stories does not mean you are obligated to share your own.

RAINN has published other tips for survivors consuming media. These include “remembering that you are in control of the media you consume,” so if something is upsetting, there is no obligation to read or view it.

The organization also stresses the importance of talking to people you trust.

Jessica Henderson Daniel, president of the American Psychological Association, issued a statement that said sexual assault “is likely the most underreported crime in the United States. About two-thirds of female sexual assault victims do not report to the police, and many victims do not tell anyone.”

Daniel said that some memories can be recalled in excruciating detail, while others may be forgotten. “The American Psychological Association is concerned that public statements questioning the integrity of Dr. Ford and the veracity of her allegation due to her prior lack of reporting will make it even more likely that other sexual assault victims do not report their experiences,” she said.

Diehm said she doesn’t know if the Kavanaugh accusations will be taken seriously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“And the thing is, the most shocking part I’ve seen is that even if it is true, a lot of people don’t care,” Diehm said.

Diehm said she has been affected by seeing the recent pushback regarding the Kavanaugh allegations. She said it reconfirms “personal fears of sharing stories like this.”

Dustin Knight, a senior at MU and survivor of sexual assault, said seeing the Kavanaugh accusation story in the news brought back difficult memories for him.

“Personally, this is an immediate trigger,” Knight said. “It brings back these emotional scars that I’ve of course dealt with, but it’s still there.”

Richard Sindel, president of Sindel Noble law firm in St. Louis, represents clients who have been accused of sexually violent crimes.

Sindel, whose firm handles cases in Columbia, is aware of how important it is to make his employees feel safe in the environment in which they work. He has seen examples of this importance as far back as 1991.

“I remember I was an attorney when Anita Hill came into testify, and we heard all that testimony,” he said, referring to Hill’s Senate testimony at the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Clarence Thomas. “We had a meeting at my office of all the staff — which was a fair number of women — to say, ‘Look, if this is going on, if we are joking around and kidding, but it is offensive, we need to know so we can address it.'”

Knight also emphasized the importance of talking about subjects like sexual assault and that coming forward is by no means an easy thing to do.

Diehm said it’s completely understandable when the costs outweigh the benefits.

“She was brave enough to come forward — most people can’t say that,” Diehm said of Ford. “It’s great that it can get to the top of everyone’s news feed. But, at the end of the day you have to wonder what she feels when she sees that too. Because that’s on her newsfeed, too. That’s trending on her Twitter,” Diehm said.

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