October 19, 2018
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Trump’s mockery shows why sexual assault reports are rare, and traumatic

Rogelio V. Solis | AP
Rogelio V. Solis | AP
President Donald Trump waves to supporters in the balcony seats at a rally Tuesday in Southaven, Mississippi.

The laughter. That’s what Christine Blasey Ford remembers most about the time in high school when Brett Kavanaugh and his friend locked her in a bedroom and, she says, Kavanaugh tried to remove her clothes, climbed on top of her and covered her mouth so she couldn’t yell for help. Both boys were laughing, Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week when asked about her strongest memory of the alleged incident.

Days after her testimony, which he had earlier called “ very credible,” President Donald Trump fired up his supporters at a rally in Mississippi by mocking Ford, suggesting she was lying because she couldn’t remember every detail of the alleged attack by Kavanaugh, Trump’s pick to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember,’” Trump said at the rally Tuesday. “How did you get there? ‘I don’t remember.’ Where is the place? ‘I don’t remember.’ How many years ago was it? ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

The crowd cheered — and laughed.

Sen. Susan Collins quickly condemned Trump’s remarks. “The president’s comments were just plain wrong,” she said Wednesday. Sen. Angus King say they made him feel “sort of sick.”

The president’s performance — and the crowd’s reaction — should make us all feel sick. First, Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by several women and who has bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, lied about much of what Ford said under oath. She has consistently said the incident happened in the summer of 1982. She described the location of the house and how it was laid out. Despite Trump’s claim that she didn’t know whether the alleged assault happened upstairs or downstairs, she has consistently said it happened upstairs.

Second, by mocking and laughing at Ford’s testimony, Trump and his supporters are reaffirming why survivors of sexual violence don’t report what has happened to them. They fear being disbelieved. They fear being punished. They fear being blamed. They fear it doesn’t matter.

[Opinion: The vile treatment of Christine Blasey Ford is exactly why sexual assault victims don’t come forward]

Out of every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported to police and, of these, only 57 lead to arrests, according to Department of Justice figures. Eleven of these cases will be referred to prosecutors and there will be felony convictions in seven of them. Six perpetrators will serve time in jail.

Simple math shows that if 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence will not be prosecuted, why bother reporting the crime at all?

There are also scientific reasons that survivors of traumatic events don’t remember every detail.

“While none of us knows what transpired behind a locked door 36 years ago, Ford’s recollections are absolutely consistent with the known way that traumatic memory works,” Donald Davidoff, chief of the neuropsychology department at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, wrote in a recent letter to the Boston Globe. “That she remembers the faces and names of her attackers along with their laughter, but not the peripheral details of address and date, is in keeping with how traumatic memories are processed and recalled.”

Don’t believe a doctor? How about a longtime television journalist? “I, too, was sexually assaulted — not 36 years ago but about 50 years ago. I have kept my dirty little secret to myself. Silence for five decades. The molester was our trusted family doctor,” Connie Chung wrote in a column published Wednesday by The Washington Post.

“The exact date and year are fuzzy. But details of the event are vivid — forever seared in my memory,” she wrote.

[Opinion: I, too, was sexually assaulted – and it’s seared into my memory forever]

Big changes are needed in how we talk about and treat sexual assault and its survivors and perpetrators, no matter who they are, where they went to school or what jobs they hold.

It starts with not laughing at reports of sexual assault or mocking them as being too late or too vague.

Immediately, it also requires not accepting a rushed and constrained FBI investigation and not elevating Kavanaugh, who has shown he is unfit for the job, to the Supreme Court.

This editorial is about sexual assault, which may be hard for some readers. If you need support, please call 1-800-871-7741 to talk with an advocate. This service is free, private and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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