The boxes Kavanaugh opened


author: marty grande-sherbert | op-ed editor


According to an article by Eliana Dockterman in Time magazine on Kavanaugh and the #MeToo movement, the Friday following the Kavanaugh hearing was the single busiest day in the history of the hotline for RAINN, a sexual abuse support network. There was an outrageous 388 per cent increase in the line’s traffic; although other events during the #MeToo movement saw a spike in survivors reaching out for support, this was unprecedented.  

In the same article, trauma specialty psychologist Dr. Jennifer Freyd compares the Kavanaugh hearing to a “natural disaster” after which there is a period of reeling grief, and I have to agree with this assessment. The amount of overwhelming pain and helplessness I have witnessed and felt from the people around me in the past two weeks has left me at a loss. There have been so many testimonies, words of heartbroken honesty, and calls for justice both within and outside my own social circle that I doubt there is anything I can speak to that hasn’t already been said. I can, however, attempt to communicate this “disaster” to a larger audience, because it seems there are still people who don’t understand. 

Many have pointed to what Lady Gaga articulated on Stephen Colbert’s show recently as an explanation of what it is like to be a survivor right now. She calls the Kavanaugh situation “the most upsetting thing [she has] ever witnessed,” and goes on to explain that Dr. Christine Ford’s coming forward in the first place happened because Kavanaugh’s rising to a position of power “opened a box.” This “box” is what survivors of trauma use to protect themselves from horrifying experiences – the mind files things away and confuses them, so that we can carry on. Gaga is right, and as a student of psychology as well as a person living with mental illness I can confirm: it is very common for trauma survivors to forget details of what happened to them, even large details. This is why it is so maddening to hear people doubt Ford’s testimony on the basis of a poor memory. It naturally follows that her memories of this assault are not crystal clear. 

But it isn’t only Dr. Ford’s box that was opened during this hearing; the boxes of hundreds of people, American, Canadian and otherwise, who had experienced assault and were watching, were all opened, too. The statistics of the RAINN hotline suggest that people were actually experiencing flare-ups in their PTSD because of what was happening on the news. Yet, we continue to see people including the President of the United States treating this hearing in a detached, off-handed manner, as if the outcome isn’t significant and the root of the issue isn’t emotional. This doesn’t make the feelings of despair any better. 

The confirmation of Kavanaugh is devastating to everyone whose “box” was opened during this hearing. Many people saw this as a parallel of their own abuse, and are now seeing an abusesr rewarded and risen to a higher position of power. Kavanaugh’s position is a painful institutional reminder to survivors that calls for justice are so often ignored and trivialized. If this doesn’t hurt or scare you, you have not thought long enough on its implications. It is quite frankly dystopian to think that a man who inspired so much fear this week is now the face of a country’s justice system.  

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