Letter to: sexual assault survivors

Dear survivors of sexual assault,

First off and most importantly, I believe you. You are strong and resilient, no matter your situation.

I know these past few weeks have been hard, with all that’s been going on in our country. Not only are the topics of survivors and their experiences on the front of every tabloid and incorporated in many of our classes, but a lot of the exposure is exceedingly negative. And no matter how much strength and closure we have in ourselves and our stories, those words and ideas still hurt deeply.

During the week of the hearings between Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I, personally, had to turn off notifications from the news apps on my phone and abstain from most forms of social media. It seemed that every time I checked the status of the news, I was greeted by more terrible updates and more ignorant statements from people in power of our government. It’s been extremely emotionally tolling on myself and also those around me with similar experiences. It’s been hard to live a healthy student life and it’s been hard to keep our minds in a stable headspace, but I think we can step forward from this together.

Ideas of how trauma works in the brain have been widely misconceptualized by conservative media since Dr. Ford bravely stepped forward. Just a few days ago, a video surfaced of President Trump mocking her testimony during a rally on his campaign trail. His stance on why her story seemed so ridiculous was based around his ignorance and bigoted beliefs on the subject of trauma and how it affects the brain.

For anybody who’s seen Dr. Ford’s testimony, there are parts of her assault that she remembers vividly, but also details that she doesn’t. This is not a reflection on the validity of her experience, nor is the loss of memory after a traumatic event a reflection of any survivor’s credibility. The evidence of this is shown in an analysis piece written by Jim Hopper, Ph.D., on how traumatic memories impacted the Senate hearing. He delves into the exact neurological influences on a survivor’s brain, but a significant point he makes is a comparison of the trauma veterans and sexual assault survivors experience. They both may remember the exact details of the assault or, per say, a death of a friend on the field, but they might have no idea where it happened, what time of day it was or what they did following the trauma.

Survivors, there are countless years and hours of neurological research backing the credibility of your stories. The way that you remember your trauma, how you reached out, or did not reach out and your journey to healing is completely valid. There is no right or wrong way to experience trauma, and it is disheartening to see such influential figures in media spout their lies and violent language against survivors of all sorts.

These attacks on survivors and the credibility of women aren’t new. Throughout history, we have never been believed. Anita Hill wasn’t in 1991 and, more than 20 years later, we are still at a standstill with Dr. Ford.

Continue to use your voice when it comes to your experience and the advocacy for other survivors, if you are in a position to do so. Use your voice to teach and spread awareness, but also please vote on Nov. 6 and encourage others to do the same. More struggles are bound to be ahead, but I believe we can stride forward with the support of our own community and within ally communities.

Lastly, to any ally reading: research how to support your friends, family and partners who may be survivors. Listen to them, check in on them and believe them. We need you more now more than ever.

With love,

A fellow survivor

Rayanne Painter can be reached at [email protected] or @rayphenomenon on Twitter.