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Kavanaugh gets emotional during hearing

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gets emotional during his opening statement where he proclaimed that he is innocent of the sexual assault allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford.

Posted: Sep 28, 2018 5:47 PM
Updated: Sep 28, 2018 6:00 PM

The moment the camera turned on Christine Blasey Ford as she sat down to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I started to cry. As soon as she began her opening statement, her voice at times wavering as she fought back tears while recounting what she alleges occurred during a high school party over three decades ago, my body began to shake and I struggled to breathe normally.

Suddenly, even in the security of my workplace and while surrounded by caring coworkers, I no longer felt safe. I was experiencing a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by a sexual assault I endured six years ago.

When Dr. Ford described Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge laughing while they allegedly assaulted her -- "They're having fun at my expense, laughing with each other and I was underneath one of them when they laughed" -- I could only remember the voice of my abuser as he laughed while I told him to stop. When Dr. Ford described with scientific precision the fear she felt when Dr. Kavanaugh allegedly covered her mouth with his hand, I felt the same fear I felt when my assailant pinned me down move throughout my body.

Across the country, as Christine Blasey Ford was re-living her own trauma, survivors of sexual assault were undoubtedly re-living their own assaults and enduring symptoms of PTSD. I was re-living mine.

Kavanaugh's opening statement vigorously denying the allegations against him was also triggering, but in a very different way. His overt anger, his unapologetic willingness to yell and, at times, cut off sitting senators, provoked a palpable physical response I was powerless to control. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, my heart rate elevated, and I had a sudden urge to leave my place of work as soon as possible -- a place that on any other day makes me feel safe. According to WebMD, PTSD triggers can include sounds, and a trigger puts your body into a fight, flight, or freeze response.

I'm far from alone. Women across the country are sitting at home, or at their computers, or in their cars, living their lives and trying to do their jobs or care for their families. And, right now, so many of them can't.

One in six women, and one in 10 men, will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), and in the United States, on average, there are 321,500 victims of rape and sexual assault every year. The US Department of Veterans reports that one in three victims of sexual assault will experience post-traumatic stress disorder sometime during their lives.

According to RAINN Press Secretary Sara McGovern, the National Sexual Assault Hotline has seen a 57% increase in calls made after Dr. Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of attempted rape. "We often see an increase in calls when sexual assault stories are in the news," McGovern told CNN. On Thursday, the day of the hearing, McGovern reported calls to the hotline surged by 147%.

"While watching the hearing I vacillated between nausea, rage, deep sadness, and fear," Alison Turkos, a multiple sexual assault survivor, told me in an interview. According to Turkos, her PTSD and anxiety has heightened over the last two weeks. "I'm not sleeping well, I'm having night terrors," she says.

The long-lasting impact of surviving a trauma, especially a sexual assault, can be both physical and mental, says Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, an Indiana-based pediatrician and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. "Evidence shows that there are physical effects (such as high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and high cholesterol) as well as many mental health diagnoses that are associated with the exposure to sexual assault," she told me.

While Dr. Wilkinson believes these hearings can be incredibly powerful for victims of sexual assault, she also says they can be painful. "Hearing the description of the assault and the subsequent harassment that Dr. Ford endured is daunting and may trigger their own memories of assault," she says.

But it isn't just the hearing impacting sexual assault survivors like myself. As soon as Professor Blasey Ford came forward, and in the wake of additional, credible sexual assault allegations made by Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, it has been difficult for me to sleep, to get out of bed, and to feel safe in public. To the horror of my family, I cringe when loved ones try to hug me or move quickly in my direction to show me positive, consensual affection. It has been difficult to focus at work, at home, and even when playing with my 4-year-old son.

These are all symptoms of PTSD I've had before, but hearing the allegations against Kavanaugh and the reactions to those allegations by GOP politicians, political pundits, and the President of the United States himself has brought them back with a vengeance.

"These past couple of weeks have been the hardest of my life," said Christine Blasey Ford in the hearing. "I have had to relive this trauma in front of the world. And I have seen my life picked apart by people on television, on Twitter, other social media, other media, and in this body by people who have never met me or have spoken of me."

It's especially toxic to hear the "why did she wait so long" theme, because I know that there's no timeline for healing, for feeling safe enough to talk about it. According to one study cited by the US Department of Veterans, 94 out of 100 victims of sexual assault experience PTSD two weeks immediately following the attack, and 30 out of 100 continue to experience PTSD symptoms nine months later. Professor Blasey Ford discussed how her own alleged assault impacted her life in the immediate aftermath -- prompting her to struggle in school and in relationships -- and in her later life. She made it clear that she was and has been forever changed.

"PTSD and anxiety are not tangible," says Turkos, "it's not a broken leg; you can't see it. And because it's long lasting, it sometimes feels like people are using a timeline for healing."

One instance of abuse can impact an individual for the rest of their lives, which is why Dr. Wilkinson encourages all victims of sexual assault to seek out support from people they trust and in a way that works best for them. If you or someone you love has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Braving her trauma, Christine Blasey Ford sat in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee and shared her story with certainty and clarity. She endured hours of questioning, asked to recall her strongest memories of the assault, and defended her ability to remember her attacker. Just like the assault itself, this hearing will no doubt stay with Dr. Ford for the rest of her life.

Just like it will stay with victims of sexual assault and their loved ones across the country.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 847659

Reported Deaths: 16172
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1163752005
Mobile743371381
Madison53434738
Shelby38413371
Baldwin38171589
Tuscaloosa36131643
Montgomery34571782
Lee25664264
Calhoun22622519
Morgan22527408
Etowah20059520
Marshall18821318
Houston17769426
St. Clair16946359
Limestone16192220
Cullman16140305
Elmore15948295
Lauderdale15055307
Talladega14244302
DeKalb13061271
Walker12138380
Blount10765193
Autauga10545157
Jackson10204195
Coffee9435192
Colbert9363210
Dale9038192
Tallapoosa7283202
Russell710165
Chilton7078170
Covington6967197
Escambia6962144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5795142
Marion5435130
Dallas5302210
Pike5128109
Clarke485686
Lawrence4845130
Winston4785110
Geneva4650136
Bibb435495
Barbour370180
Butler3444101
Marengo342793
Monroe338366
Randolph337767
Pickens334790
Fayette331485
Henry321066
Cherokee319964
Hale318889
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252069
Macon245767
Conecuh193562
Coosa185847
Wilcox178338
Lowndes178268
Bullock152745
Perry141840
Sumter139741
Greene130345
Choctaw94328
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