“Indelible in the Hippocampus”: An Assault Survivor’s Perspective on Lessons from the #MeToo Movement

Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions of sexual assault and dating violence

Just over one year ago, Ashley Judd accused Harvey Weinstein of a pattern of sexual misconduct in the breaking news story that helped ignite the #MeToo movement. Since October 2017, many powerful men including Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Kevin Spacey, and Bill Cosby have been publicly accused of sexual assault. The moment has been empowering for countless women and survivors, but the inadequate response and struggle for justice has left many other young women confused. One of the most egregious outcomes yet has been Brett Kavanaugh’s successful confirmation to the Supreme Court, just weeks after severe allegations of sexual assault against him were revealed.

It was inspiring to watch Dr. Christine Blasey Ford speak bravely and candidly for hours about one of the most traumatic moments of her life. Her recollection mirrored what so many of us have experienced, and served as a source of validation in the midst of a traumatic week of news. Listening to her story made many believe that maybe, this time, an abusive man wouldn’t get away with it. Our hopes were, of course, crushed when the Senate voted to confirm this abuser to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

The weeks following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee have been challenging for all Americans, especially survivors of sexual assault. I know survivors who turned off their phone notifications and stopped checking social media to avoid constant reminders of their abuser by an incessant 24-hour news cycle. As a survivor of sexual assault, I struggled with the reawakening of my trauma during the hearings and confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It is one thing to know that powerful people in the world do not believe survivors of sexual assault, but it is another thing entirely to hear numerous men stand up before the world on live television and deny the experiences of survivors. Watching Associate Justice Kavanaugh be confirmed to the court and witnessing the national conversation die down in the short time since his confirmation is one of the most disheartening political moments I have ever experienced.

A number of survivors, myself included, have spent months or even years working through their own trauma and self-doubt. We have heard from friends and family that our trauma wasn’t “bad enough” to be considered rape, or that our trauma is less valid because we chose not to report our abusers. I have personally struggled for years with these questions while battling my own self-doubt. Hearing persistent victim blaming from politicians and the president can reawaken the obsessive thoughts many survivors have about their traumatic experiences and self-blame.

As a teenager, I was in an abusive relationship, and my memories of sexual assault mirror some of Dr. Fords stories closely. Thanks to the society around me and a school curriculum that taught very little about consent and healthy relationships, I went through most of the three-year-long relationship thinking the way I was being treated was normal and acceptable. My trauma was abusive and manipulative. Guilt and shame were regularly used by my partner to pressure me into having sex if I said no. It took me years after the abuse began and months after my relationship ended to admit to myself that I had been assaulted. I was isolated by my abuser and gaslighted into believing that I was crazy and the problems in our relationship were my fault. To this day, I refer to myself only as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse. It still feels too raw and disingenuous to call myself a rape survivor in any context, even within my own head. I struggle with these questions and the fact that I didn’t report my abuser for fear of retaliation or retraumatization by the reporting process.

What strikes me so deeply about Dr. Ford’s testimony are the critics questioning why Dr. Ford did not report her assault right away, as it is highly likely that Dr. Ford did not even have words for her assault at the time it happened. Given the climate she grew up in, at a private school in the 1980’s, proper consent education may not have even been taught.

Unfortunately, not much has gotten better in school curriculums regarding sex and relationship education. The private school Dr. Ford attended may not teach proper consent education to this day. Dating violence is remarkably prevalent among teenagers as they navigate sex and relationships for the first time. Without comprehensive dating and sex education, victims will continue to misunderstand their experiences and not understand the signs of abuse or assault.

I don’t want other young women to feel confused by this political moment or be left to struggle with their own experiences the way I did. I don’t want other women to feel the crippling self-doubt I struggled with. I dream of a world in which young women are educated about how they deserve to be treated and are able to stand up for themselves if their boundaries are crossed.

My vision for equality is a society that teaches consent, condemns abusers, and empowers survivors of abuse, sexual harassment, and violence. Until then, I dream of justice for women who are just now beginning to understand their experiences and finding the confidence to come forward and condemn their abusers. I join hundreds of other women in saying #MeToo.

Cara is a Government Relations Intern at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Action Center in Washington, DC. 

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