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  • Whitehouse: Nation Reckons With Sexual Assault Survivors’ Stories

    Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    TO THE EDITOR:

    “The past few weeks have been doubly difficult,” she wrote.

    As a United States Senator, Rhode Islanders write to me every day weighing in on different policies debated in Congress.  But I have never had mail like this.  Something special—something miraculous—is happening.

    Since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward to calmly and factually describe Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her, women across the country have had a moment of reckoning.  Courageous Rhode Island women, of all ages and backgrounds, have written me to share their own stories of harassment, assault, and survival.  Some of them have given me permission to share their words for you to see, words they may have held back for years.

    For many, the coverage of Dr. Blasey Ford’s appearance before the Senate dredged up deep and disquieting emotions.  As one wrote:

    The past few weeks have been doubly difficult with Dr. Ford coming forward and all of the constant news threads and social media threads. I have been triggered with nightmares, fear of being alone, and emotionally wrecked.  PTSD and triggers are real.  No matter how much therapy and time goes by, one small statement or physical interaction can trigger someone who has experienced a traumatic assault.

    Another woman who wrote to me that she had survived more than one attempted rape, but told no one, described her heart racing and muscles tensed as she wrote now about her experiences.

    Women opened up in their letters about the lasting effects of sexual assault:

    “As a rape survivor (I was nineteen years old—I am now 66 years old), I want you to know that that experience does color the rest of a person’s life, informing decisions that you make, where and how you go somewhere, how you raise your children and relate to your husband and all other people.  Sometimes through the decades, you think about it consciously and on purpose, and sometimes outside events can bring it back without your willing it to be so,” one woman wrote.

    Some were moved to tell their stories because they see their own fears reflected in Dr. Blasey Ford’s brave testimony.  The fear of not being believed.  The fear of losing the respect of family and friends.  But they were sure her memories were real, because their own are seared into their minds.

    Another survivor wrote to me, “I’m sure my rapist hasn’t thought of me since that night 21 years ago either.  In fact, he like Kavanaugh would likely deny anything had ever happened.  But here’s the thing about rape—the victims never forget.”

    Rhode Island is a small state.  To have this many testimonials come forward is stunning. Senate colleagues in other states are seeing a similar response.  We are experiencing a deeply important national moment.

    President Trump has missed all this.  Fixated by confirming another donor-friendly judge, he mocked Dr. Blasey Ford at a political rally Tuesday night.  At first he had called her a “credible witness” who was “very compelling,” but then reverted to form, to ridicule her in front of a crowd.  That kind of ignorance and cruelty is exactly why victims of assault and harassment hold in what happened to them, often for years, sometimes for decades; fortunately, Republicans and Democrats alike condemned the president.

    There is so much promise in this moment.  I am so grateful to the women who overcame their fears and trauma to entrust me with their stories.  To those who still carry their own untold experiences, help is available: Rhode Islanders can call Day One’s 24-hour helpline at (800) 494-8100; people will care and understand.

    As a Senator and a member of the Judiciary Committee, giving careful consideration to Supreme Court nominations is among my most important responsibilities.  These are lifetime appointments that can change not only the course of the nation, but can also change lives.  I already had deep concerns about Judge Kavanaugh before Dr. Blasey Ford came forward.  He has an unpleasant record on the bench of ruling for powerful activist Republican special interests.  He refused to commit to honoring well-established precedent—on critical issues like women’s constitutional rights.  And I had significant concerns about his truthfulness and temperament, which were more than proven justified over the course of these hearings.

    But this is about far more than a troubled nominee.  Dr. Blasey Ford’s quietly compelling testimony has forced our nation to face up to tough questions about how women have been treated.  We should grasp the power of this moment. Women across the country, and here in Rhode Island, are reconciling with their truth, and fighting through a long and unfair legacy of shame, fear, and stigma.  It is a true personal honor to share this moment with them, to be trusted with their stories, and to have the chance to help end that legacy.

    This is a moment for all of us.  “I don’t believe that this should be a partisan debate,” one woman wrote, “it’s on the level of basic human rights.”

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