Maybe you — as I did — spent hours last week watching the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judicial Committee, to determine Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment granting him tremendous power.
As you may know, she accuses him of assaulting her sexually when she was 15 and he was 17.
A question on many people’s minds is, how well can anyone recall something that happened over 35 years ago?
Pretty well, say scientists, if the memory is of a traumatic event. That’s because of the key role emotions play in making and storing memories.
On any given day, our brains store or “encode” only some of the things we experience. “What we pay attention to is what’s more likely to get encoded,” says Jim Hopper, a teaching associate in psychology at Harvard University and a consultant on sexual assault and trauma….
“The stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, that are released during a terrifying trauma tend to render the experience vivid and memorable, especially the central aspect, the most meaningful aspects of the experience for the victim,” says Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the book Remembering Trauma.
That’s because a high-stress state “alters the function of the hippocampus and puts it into a super-encoding mode,” says Hopper, especially early on during an event. And “the central details [of the event] get burned into their memory and they may never forget them.”
Whether it’s sexual assault victims or soldiers in combat or survivors of an earthquake, people who have experienced traumatic events tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for life, says McNally.
I find this dismissal of another’s memories appalling — and of course, politically expedient for Republicans.
As someone whose life changed forever at 14, thanks to a traumatic event (thankfully, not assault or abuse), I think those who challenge early, brutal memories, even if they’re fragmented, both arrogant and unscathed.
I won’t get into every detail, but my mother had a manic episode on Christmas Eve when I was 14. We were living in Mexico, far from friends or relatives, not that any relatives ever cared that I was an only child in the care of a mentally ill mother.
We had no phone. We’d been there maybe four months, so even schoolmates were still acquaintances.
It was basically terrifying.
That evening, driving recklessly down Mexican highways, she endangered my life and that of two other people with us before driving into a ditch at midnight on the edge of an industrial city I had never been to.
I ended up taking care of another girl my age, alone, for two weeks, before returning to Canada to live with my father — for the first time in seven years.
Image used with permission from its creator Aaron Reynolds; a card from his deck Effin’ Birds
Some moments of that evening, and what came next, are etched into my memory.
But some others?
Not at all.
I never lived with my mother again.
Nor would I ever again allow her, or anyone, to endanger me like that.
If you’ve suffered trauma, let no one try to dismiss what you already know.
If you haven’t, don’t inflict further pain on anyone by disbelieving or questioning them.
It’s a wonder, really, that so many of us are able to survive, even thrive!
As an undergraduate student at University of Toronto I studied Spanish and, for a while, volunteered to do interpreting work with Chilean refugees who came to Toronto fleeing the repression, abduction and torture of the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet.
As some of you know, it’s exhausting to confide your worst moments ever to a total stranger, to relive them over and over to prove how much you’ve suffered. For a man of Latino heritage, having to do so to a young Canadian girl, me, must have been so difficult.
I won’t share here what they told me, but it was terrifying and I will never forget it, no matter how much I’d like to.
I vividly recall my first protest. Various organizations and individuals came together in outrage over a subpar sentencing recommendation for a convicted rapist. Armed with a sign demanding our justice system take rape seriously, I marched in front of the court alongside veteran activists, and every time I tried to join in the chants (“If you do the crime, you must do the time!”), I choked up.
That lump in my throat wasn’t borne out of sadness, but from an overwhelming feeling of togetherness and pride. I was incredibly proud to be part of a movement that dedicated itself to protecting and promoting women’s rights, one that fearlessly advocated for sexual assault victims.
Feeling of awe aside, I remained unconvinced of what end result, if any, our action would have that day. As it turns out, our protest and an online petition made a difference; the judge handed down the maximum sentence.
That triumph—my first real taste of feminist activism—taught me a powerful lesson I’ll never forget: that speaking up can make a tangible difference. And not just in one’s own healing journey, but in the lives of others. I loved playing a part, no matter how small, in that process.
It’s a perpetual dilemma when, if and how much to reveal to someone new to you, to peel back the onion and trust them with something deeply difficult.
I had two friends who were abused as young women, one by a relative, who took many years to finally share that with me. One always wore layers and layers of clothing and scarves, and I wondered why.
Then I knew and understood.
Only when I took the chance, here, and blogged about dealing with my mother’s mental illness did another person who reads Broadside open up about her own experiences with it, sparking a deeper intimacy and growing friendship as a result of taking that risk.
I’m now reading a small, slim book by a man who knows a great deal about survival — Sebastian Junger. The book is Tribe, and he examines the social dislocation so many of us now feel in an era of constant “connection” but often very shallow links to others.
What he focuses on is how we all float around, working, marrying, (or not), having children (or not), but how some of us long, very deeply, for a profound sense of belonging.
He writes of a young woman who lived through the war in Bosnia and who misses the powerful camaraderie it produced then.
Junger’s book talks about how a true tribe requires some sort of initiation, and a very deep sense of shared values.
For decades, journalism, has been the tribe I’ve been proud to join and belong to.
No matter how much some people viciously deride “the media” and call us “presstitutes” I’m still happy this has been my choice.
It’s been quite a week for those of us who live in the United States and who watched the second Presidential debate on Sunday night.
Like many of my friends, male and female, gay and straight, I slept very badly that night and have been exhausted ever since.
The thought of Donald Trump with access to nuclear codes?
One of the elements of the debate that horrified so many women I know was Trump’s persistent moving around the small stage throughout, his scowling and his bizarre need to stay physically very close to Hillary Clinton throughout 90 minutes.
Defenders said he simply wanted to make sure he was always in the line of the camera’s gaze, even when she was speaking.
Asked about it later, she gamely laughed and admitted she felt his presence.
If you’ve ever been physically and/or emotionally bullied by a man who is relentless in his determination to scare the shit out of you, it leaves scars.
Most of us are physically smaller and less muscular than men, so they know they can “get away with it.”
Most of us are heavily socialized to make nice and stay calm, to laugh off, dismiss or ignore the appalling things some men say and do to us, at school, at work, on public transportation, in a bar or restaurant.
Very few of us have the appetite to lash back, fearful of physical harm, even death, if we retaliate with the full strength of the rage and disgust we really feel.
From The New York Times:
to many victims of sexual assault, Mr. Trump’s words struck a particular nerve. It was not simply that he is the Republican presidential nominee, and that a hot microphone had captured him speaking unguardedly. It was his casual tone, the manner in which he and the television personality Billy Bush appeared to be speaking a common language, many women said, that gave Mr. Trump’s boasts a special resonance.
What he said and how he said it seemed to say as much about the broader environment toward women — an environment that had kept many of these women silent for so long — as they did about the candidate. And Mr. Trump’s dismissal of his actions as “locker room talk” only underscored the point.
It creates a kind of PTSD that is very real — like many women, I was shaking with rage throughout his attacks.
Ms. Sulkowicz spoke of her interest in the kind of art that elicits a powerful response, whether negative or positive. Freshly painted on the walls around us loomed big black letters spelling out the “rules of engagement,” the guidelines to her performance: One states that she will continue the piece until the man she accuses of attacking her is no longer on campus, whether he leaves or is expelled or graduates, as she also will next spring. (If need be, she plans to attend commencement carrying the mattress.) She said the performance is giving her new muscles and an inner strength she didn’t know she had, and is attracting many different kinds of attention, some of it hard to take.
“Carry That Weight” is both singular and representative of a time of strongly held opinions and objections and righteous anger on all sides, a time when, not surprisingly, political protest and performance art are intersecting in increasingly adamant ways.
Her decision to make the alleged attack public, ongoing and physically demanding — of her and her bystanders — forces others to engage with her, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Many rape survivors choose to remain silent and hidden, fearing insensitive response from friends, family and authorities.
A few years ago, an Ivy League student going public about her rape, telling the world her real name—let alone trying to attract attention by lugging around a mattress—would have been a rare bird. In America, after all, we still assume rape survivors want, and need, their identities protected by the press. But shattering silence, in 2014, means not just coming out with an atrocity tale about your assault but offering what Danielle Dirks, a sociologist at Occidental, calls “an atrocity tale about how poorly you were treated by the people you pay $62,500 a year to protect you.” By owning those accusations, and pointing a finger not only at assailants but also the American university, the ivory tower of privilege, these survivors have built the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Rape activists now don’t talk much about women’s self-care and protection like they did in the ’90s with Take Back the Night marches, self-defense classes, and cans of Mace. Today, the militant cry is aimed at the university: Kick the bastards out.
According to this HuffPo story, 10 Columbia undergrads were accused of sexual assault in 2013-14 — and none have been disciplined:
The Ivy League university announced in January that it would release the aggregate data, starting with the 2013-14 school year.
“Over the past year, the issue of sexual assault has gained a new level of attention and engagement on campuses around the country,” Columbia Provost John Coatsworth said in an email to students. “We are committed to providing a national model of the best policies and practices to help ensure that members of our University community feel safe and respected. As one part of that commitment, we are publishing Columbia’s first annual Report on Gender-Based Misconduct Prevention and Response.”
Few universities disclose such information. Some Ivy League schools, including Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College, release data on sexual assault punishments in some form.
College offers students a wealth of exciting opportunities — to learn new subjects in depth, try new sports and activities, take on leadership roles, gain intellectual confidence and emotional maturity.
For some, it becomes an overwhelming maelstrom of sexual assault, often in concert with consciousness, memory and physical condition altered by drugs and/or alcohol.
This Slate piece, from 2013, raises some powerful questions and received 60,000 Facebook shares:
A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. The men tend to use the drinking to justify their behavior, as this survey of research on alcohol-related campus sexual assault by Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, illustrates, while for many of the women, having been drunk becomes a source of guilt and shame….
The 2009 campus sexual assault study, co-authored by Krebs, found campus alcohol education programs “seldom emphasize the important link” between women’s voluntary alcohol and drug use “and becoming a victim of sexual assault.” It goes on to say students must get the explicit message that limiting alcohol intake and avoiding drugs “are important sexual assault sex protection strategies.” I think it would be beneficial for younger students to hear accounts of alcohol-facilitated sexual assault from female juniors and seniors who’ve lived through it.
Of course, perpetrators should be caught and punished. But when you are dealing with intoxication and sex, there are the built-in complications of incomplete memories and differing interpretations of intent and consent. To establish if a driver is too drunk to be behind the wheel, all it takes is a quick test to see if his or her blood alcohol exceeds the legal limit. There isn’t such clarity when it comes to alcohol and sex.
This group, End Rape on Campus, offers nine additional resources; these women are fighting several prestigious schools — UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia, Berkeley — for sexual assaults against them while they were students.
Gratefully, I never suffered any such assaults while an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and, yes, I did attend some parties at male fraternity houses. But there was not, then, (and I suspect still), a culture of female binge drinking.
For a variety of reasons — maybe coming of age during second-wave feminism? — drinking myself into vomiting, staggering oblivion, let alone while surrounded in a large house by young men whose morals, ethics or sexual notions of decent behavior were unknown to me just never appealed to me in any way. So I just didn’t do it.
For me, and my friends, sex was fun, plentiful — and best enjoyed while sober. And, as someone who lived all four years off-campus living solo in an apartment, I was also acutely aware that whatever (lousy) choices I made were mine alone, as were the consequences of same.
I had no RAs, nearby friends or room-mates or campus security to turn to for advice or possible protection. Cellphones — and an emergency text or IM — did not yet exist.
I often wonder how much of young women’s “need” to drink themselves into virtual unconsciousness is a quick, easy and socially-sanctioned way to dodge the many complicated feelings and negotiations around safe, enjoyable, consensual sex.
Is this an issue that has touched you or someone you love?
Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom.
The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear.
It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus.
Things to consider:
–– this student’s naievete, about fraternity behavior, getting drunk, trusting her own judgment to get the hell out when she began (as she did) to feel scared
— the boys’ crime, shrugged off by the college and D.A.
— the school’s inept approach to adjudicating serious crime
— larger questions about how much a college is “in loco parentis”, responsible for students’ behavior
— the extremely un-PC point that women should keep their damn wits about them if they’re going to hang out with a bunch of men anywhere in the world they do not know well. Even those they think they do know well. Getting so drunk you cannot remember your actions is pure insanity, as is trusting everyone else around you to take responsibility for your sobriety and sexuality. If you would no sooner stand in the middle of a six-lane highway and just kinda hope people would — you know — swerve around you, why endanger yourself by drinking to mindless oblivion?
I went to a few fraternity parties when I was a student at the University of Toronto. They were always crowded and noisy, filled with young men I didn’t know in another circumstances. The preppy crowd was really never a great fit for me.
Luckily, I was never assaulted.
But nor did I ever attend them, or while there choose to become, blind drunk.
I never want to be out of control to that degree, anywhere, ever.
Later in my life, I made the disastrous error in judgment of dating a con man, a man who had been convicted of that crime in another state. My interactions with my local police and district attorney were appalling, eye-opening and life-changing.
The authorities, in whom I’d placed my middle-class tax-paying home-owning trust — simply didn’t give a shit.
I have never looked at “the authorities” with the same naive respect since then, and that was 16 years ago.
This stupid school also later had male students walk around campus in high heels — for fucks’ sake — to show their empathy and solidarity with female vulnerability.
Better they should have borrowed a vagina and gone to a party full of entitled jocks.
And here is just one of 1,700+ (!) comments on the story, from a reader in L.A. (This might be the most comments I’ve ever seen on a NYT story.)
How many more stories of hallowed institutions misusing their authority to protect athlete rapists and either silence and/or denigrate rape victims must we hear about before victims just automatically eschew campus governance entirely and go directly to law enforcement? When will matriculating students and their parents confront head on that basketball and football are not the only long standing team sports woven deep into the cultural fabric of their chosen college? I am so tired of hearing about rape and rapist protection culture built in to religious and academic institutions. I would tell any entering freshman who experiences sexual assault to rush themselves to the hospital for a comprehensive rape examination and then go straight to the police. Only then would I report the incident to the school.
What — if anything — can or should colleges and universities be doing better to stop campus rape?
What — if anything — should young men and women be taught (or punished for not knowing/acting on) about how to conduct themselves in situations like this one?
This is one hell of a post, by University of British Columbia student Clay Nikiforuk, from rabble.ca:
What do you do when you’re detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary “evidence” is held against you, and you’re treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you’re a woman, and the “evidence” is that you possess condoms? It happened three times in two weeks — being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States…
I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.
“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”
I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.
“Was that meant to be funny?”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Ah, no. I’m definitely not.”
“Well, it sure seems like you are.”
“… How so?”
He wouldn’t elaborate.
This post raises a whole host of questions about power, sexuality, female agency and abuse of power. I also had my own issues with it because she admits — brave? foolish? — that she was traveling with her lover, a married man. Not my thing. I hate adulterers, frankly; my first husband was one, as was his partner (now his second wife.)
But the larger point remains: whose fucking business is it, when women cross the U.S. border, who we’re fucking, when and why?
Are young, unmarried men subjected to the same sort of interrogation?
I’m betting that’s a “no.”
I’ve also lived through a much milder version of this, as a young, single Canadian regularly crossing the American border for a year or so to visit my then beau, (later first husband), an American I had met when he was at med school in Montreal and who was then doing his residency in New Hampshire.
I did not then know how to drive, at 30, nor did I own a car. I did not understand that, in the United States, traveling anywhere by bus shrieks — at least to border officials — of poverty, desperation and an apparent lack of any economic choice.
To me, as I’m sure it was to Clay, also a well-educated Canadian woman, it was just a damn bus, an affordable, efficient mode of transportation, with no coded message implied.
I was also making, for a young journo, a healthy wage as a staff reporter at the Montreal Gazette, a large regional newspaper. I had a laminated press pass with my photo on it. No matter!
Every single time I crossed the U.S. border and showed it to prove my full-time, staff job in Canada I was subjected to nasty and aggressive interrogation by U.S. border officials — surely the only reason I was dating an American man was to marry him, rightawayso I could escape my hideous, unemployed life in Canada.
I climbed back into the bus every time shaken, crying, humiliated and angry. This bullshit was sexist, ugly and routine, and — luckily — something I’d not been subjected to before.
This was the country I’d be moving to to marry? Jesus!
Like Clay, I was young, single, female. These interrogations scared the shit out of me. How could they not? Would I lose the right to see my sweetie? Lose the privilege of crossing that border then, or forever? What records were they keeping and how could they affect me?
I moved to the United States, with a green card as a permanent legal resident, in July 1988 — after submitting to an AIDS test.
And yes, I learned how to drive and bought my first car, stat. The hell with the bus.
I’ve spent the week listening to a powerful BBC radio series on “Women At War”. One of them focused on the issue of sexual assault on American female soldiers:
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who sits on the Military Personnel Subcommittee, successfully lobbied last year for the development of a Sexual Assault Database to encourage accountability within the Armed Forces.
“There are plenty of phone calls that come into my office of alleged assault of women by our military men,” she says.
“They are heartbreaking. Some women don’t want to go public with it, some have gone public with it and they’ve been drilled out of the military.
“I’m told that the statistics are that once you have been raped in the military you are most likely to be raped over and over.”
She says that not enough prosecutions are happening and that while the Pentagon is taking it more seriously, big changes still need to be made.
“Why is it that when a woman alleges rape, the outcome shows that the man who supposedly did this was demoted or moved to another unit? I want to know why this is happening!”
Williams, 46, was arrested on Sunday for the disappearance and death of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd last heard from on January 28.
He was also charged in the murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau who was under his command at the base in November, and in two home invasions in September in which two women were confined and sexually assaulted.
The daily Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources, said Williams confessed to the crimes, and guided detectives to the body of his latest victim hidden in the woods near the base.
Williams, who is married, once piloted the jet used to ferry Canada’s Governor-General and prime minister, as well as the British royal family on a visit.
He commanded 437 Squadron in Trenton for more than a year, and previously was in charge of Canada’s secretive Camp Mirage in the Middle East, said to be located near Dubai.
The Trenton base is among the busiest in Canada, receiving the bodies of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and sending daily aid flights to Haiti following last month’s devastating earthquake.
It’s not a new story, although not an easy one to report with names and photos of women wiling to speak out publicly on the record. Female soldiers say they face significant sexual harrassment, let alone rape, according to today’s New York Times front-page story.
Of the women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have walked into a VA facility, 15 percent have screened positive for military sexual trauma, The Associated Press has learned. That means they indicated that while on active duty they were sexually assaulted, raped, or were sexually harassed, receiving repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.
In January, the VA opened its 16th inpatient ward specializing in treating victims of military sexual trauma, this one in New Jersey. In response to complaints that it is too male-focused in its care, the VA is making changes such as adding keyless entry locks on hospital room doors so women patients feel safer.
Depression, anxiety, problem drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and domestic abuse are all problems that have been linked to sexual abuse, according to the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides support to victims of violence associated with the military. Since 2002, the foundation says it has received more than 1,000 reports of assault and rape in the U.S. Central Command areas of operation, which include Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Miles Foundation, based in Newtown, CT, focuses on helping women facing these issues.
How ugly and abusive that women brave and patriotic enough to fight in war face enemies within their own ranks.
One in five college women will be raped, or experience an attempted rape, before graduation. Less than 5 percent will report these crimes to officials on or off campus, and, when they do, there’s a good chance the system will let them down.
A handful of former students who spoke out and reported rapes at their schools told CNN they didn’t feel protected by their universities. They were initially interviewed as part of an investigative series by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit that says it seeks to make institutions more transparent and accountable.
The women welcomed the chance to share their experiences and offer advice to students today.
“I was too young, still in too much shock and too emotionally gone to make decisions on my own,” said a woman who, as a freshman, reported a rape in 2001. “I needed an adult I trusted. The school did not provide such a person.”
Schools are aware it’s a problem, a big problem. … They’re just not dealing with this issue head-on. –Kristen Lombardi, Center for Public Integrity
The shocking statistics of rape and attempted rape on campus came to light in a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice nine years ago. But the recently released series published by the Washington center shows that while federal law requires schools to act on sexual assault allegations and look out for the rights of victims, many higher-education institutions aren’t making the grade.
“Schools are aware it’s a problem, a big problem,” said Kristen Lombardi, the center’s lead reporter for Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice. She pointed to a “culture of silence” and said critics say, “The biggest sin is one of omission. They’re just not dealing with this issue head-on in a public manner with their student bodies.”
The story has so far gathered 250 comments, several of which point out that men, too, are raped on campus and also need support and advice.