As sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh dominate the news, sexual assault prevention centers in Kansas City have seen an increase in calls from survivors reaching out for support.
Over the past two weeks, three different women have come forward and publicly accused the Supreme Court hopeful of sexual misconduct. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist at Palo Alto University and the first woman to make public allegations, testified this week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She told the panel that at a high school party when she was 15, Kavanaugh held her down on a bed, attempted to remove her clothes and covered her mouth to stifle her screams. Deborah Ramirez came forward next and accused Kavanaugh of exposing his penis to her during a drinking game at a Yale University dorm. This week, Julie Swetnick accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct while he attended Georgetown Preparatory School in the 1980s, saying she saw him at parties where girls were gang raped.
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied all accusations from the three women.
Victoria Pickering, director of public advocacy at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City, said they have seen an increase in calls over the past two weeks.
“Anytime we see increased visiblity and discussion around seuxal violence in the media and on social media, we do see an increase in survivors reaching out for support and assistance,” she said.
The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, which began trending on social media Sept. 21 after President Donald Trump cast doubt on Ford’s allegations, was one way survivors shared their experiences with sexual assault and their reasons for not reporting it.
Pickering added that, while many people are talking about sexual assault on a theoretical or political level, it can still be triggering for survivors of sexual violence. She said these conversations can often cause survivors to relive the trauma they experienced during and after their assault, which can hinder their day-to-day lives.
“I think it’s important that we remember that when we’re having conversations in a general term, … those who’ve been directly impacted by sexual violence in the past are listening to those conversations,” Pickering said. “Even when somebody doesn’t know that they’re talking to a survivor, they might be talking directly to them.”
The increase in calls in Kansas City reflects a national trend. On Thursday, when Ford and Kavanaugh testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., tweeted, “The number of people helped by the National Sexual Assault Hotline was 201% above average yesterday.”
James Moran is the education coordinator at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing advocacy and education on domestic violence, sexual assault and hate crimes to members of the LGBTQ community. He said the organization has seen more calls in the past 48 hours from people who were affected by the hearing.
“I think the hearings and the confirmation process has been very impactful for sexual assault survivors, especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to process or heal or tell their stories for whatever reason, especially with the live coverage yesterday,” Moran said. “You couldn’t escape it.”
In addition to Ford’s testimony yesterday, Moran said Kavanaugh’s demeanor has also impacted survivors. During his opening statement and interactions with senators, Kavanaugh frequently shouted and appeared visibly angry.
“If anybody watched or listened to the testimony yesterday, there was such anger and entitlement and excuse making and lack of punitive action throughout the entire proceeding,” Moran said. “And that can also be triggering for folks who have experienced sexual assault, especially those who have experienced assault at the hands of someone who maybe looks, sounds or acts like Judge Kavanaugh.”
Moran added that the recent coverage of sexual assault has also impacted the service providers who work at sexual assault prevention centers like the Anti-Violence Project.
“In a field where we see the worst of the worst, so often in a time like this where even more of that is piled on, we only get stronger,” he said. “When folks collectively go through something, it has a tendency to bring us together.”
On Friday, just a day after the hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 to send Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate.
“I think the first thing I would say to survivors, who are watching larger discussions about something that has impacted them on a really personal level, is that I believe you and I’m so sorry that you’re going through this,” Pickering said.
If you are a sexual assault survivor and are seeking support and resources in the Kansas City area, you can contact the following organizations, all of which have 24-hour hotlines.
Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA): (816) 531-0233 or (913) 642-0233
Kansas City Anti-Violence Project: (816) 561-0550
Hope House: (816) 461-4673
You can also call RAINN’s national hotline at (800) 656-4673.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @celisa_mia.