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Sexual Assault

Why Christine Blasey Ford's testimony is both 'extraordinary' and 'typical'

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said a person “may carry out a serious sexual assault without even recognising they have done so”.

THE DUBLIN RAPE Crisis Centre has said, despite the “extraordinary” circumstances, the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford represents a “typical” reaction to the disclosure of alleged sexual harassment or abuse.

Ford has accused Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nomination to fill a seat on the US Supreme Court, of assaulting her at a party in 1982 when they were both teenagers.

When asked on Thursday if her accusations regarding Kavanaugh could be a case of mistaken identity, Blasey Ford (51) replied “absolutely not”. She said she believed he was going to rape her.

She said she has experienced “anxiety, phobia and PTSD symptoms”, along with claustrophobia, since the attack happened. She said the most significant memory of the alleged assault was the alleged “laughter” of Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge.

Kavanaugh (53) has staunchly denied the allegations, saying they have “permanently destroyed” his name. He said Blasey Ford may have been assaulted but not by him. 

CBS News / YouTube

Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), said, as she listened to the hearings, she was “struck by how typical this kind of case is, even if it is made extraordinary by being in the context of a Senate hearing”.

“Even though Judge Kavanaugh absolutely denies his involvement in it, he seems to recognise that Christine Blasey Ford is disclosing a real, traumatic event that has had a life-long impact on her. This often happens.

A person discloses what happened. The other person denies absolutely it happened. The victim faces not being believed. The person accused says that their reputation has been impugned.

Blackwell said there may then be a “long and painful journey” to hear both parties and understand what happened.

As is the case in this instance, she noted that many people may not feel able to disclose abuse at the time it occurs, with some people feeling unable to speak out for years or decades.

‘The realities and nuances of intimate violence’

When listening to the hearing, Blackwell said it occurred to her that “there didn’t seem to be much questioning of the judge in relation to how he would deal with a case which concerned sexual violence”.

“I did not hear much in his testimony about his understanding of the extent of the trauma that someone who is sexually assaulted suffers, how it may affect a victim’s precise recollection of events.

“Above all, I didn’t hear much about whether he – or his corroborating witnesses – understood how two people involved in sexual activity may understand it very differently.

Indeed that a person may carry out a serious sexual assault without even recognising they have done so, and how onlookers, or people in the same house may be entirely unaware of it.

Blackwell said it’s important that judges understand the “realities and nuances of intimate violence”, noting that a sitting Supreme Court judge is likely to have to deal with such cases as sexual violence is so prevalent.

She said the outcome of the hearings are important in an Irish context “because US court decisions are often influential in thinking in our society and in our law”.

Sexual assault helpline 

A sexual assault helpline in the US has reported a surge in calls this week. 

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) said there was a 201% increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline on Thursday, when Blasey Ford appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Blackwell said there wasn’t a specific rise in calls to the DRCC this week but encouraged anyone who was affected by the testimony to call the centre’s 24/7 national helpline on 1800 77 88 88.

For anyone seeking to help a person affected by sexual assault or rape, Blackwell said it is “important to listen, to understand, not to judge or blame, and to ensure that the person has support”.

The DRCC is currently looking to hear people’s thoughts on the #MeToo movement, which has helped many individuals disclose their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse for the first time. 

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