Calls to rape crisis hotlines increasing after Ford, Kavanaugh testify

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Christine Blasey Ford declared Thursday that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as he and a friend shared “uproarious laughter” in a locked room at a 1980s high school gathering. | Pool image via AP

More people have been calling rape crisis centers in Chicago seeking assistance, many because they have been triggered by the swell of media coverage surrounding sexual assaults.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) posted Friday on Twitter that the number of people helped through the National Sexual Assault Hotline was double their average Thursday after the testimonies by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the number of calls Thursday tripled from their average of 10, said Nabilah Talib, the agency’s director of education and training.

“To see Dr. Ford’s actual testimony and to hear her story told, people connect directly to the experience,” Talib said.

Talib, who has been with the YWCA for 13 years, said survivors could draw links to the details – such as alcohol involvement – Ford described in her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh denies having assaulted Ford when they were high schoolers in suburban Maryland and denies other allegations of assault.

Erin Walton, executive director of Resilience (formerly Rape Victim Advocates), said over the last few days, there has also been an increase in people calling their hotline for support.

“Our phones have been really busy,” Walton said.

Walton says she also expects there to be an increase in intake sessions for new clients in the next two weeks after the news surrounding the testimony slows down. She added that current clients have also been diligent about keeping appointments, which could imply they are feeling triggered.

Dr. Candice Norcott, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago, said it is not unusual for survivors to avoid television and media featuring themes of sexual violence. With so much news, however, it becomes nearly unavoidable.

While she hasn’t seen any patients yet that have been triggered by recent events, Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, clinical psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said she has seen it in the past.

“[In] people that are already in treatment, I see a worsening of their symptoms or they’re coming in and talking about the news media coverage of a sexual assault is aggravating their symptoms,” Burnett-Zeigler said.

Burnett-Zeigler said she advises patients to limit the amount of time spent watching the news.

Norcott said she hopes the hearing helps Congress and the public become better educated about sexual assault and trauma.

But, she said, “I think the lasting danger is not how women are going to be triggered but how people may still stay silent.”

Walton hoped to reassure survivors, saying, “I think it’s important for people to know that regardless of what the [political] climate may feel like … we believe them.”

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