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Blueprints of trauma

By Emily Peotto

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, stone-faced and fiercely intelligent, stands in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her right hand is raised: a solemn promise that she will tell us the truth.

She recounts how Brett Kavanaugh, a Supreme Court nominee, held her down, his hand slapped against her mouth. He was 17; she was 15. She was scared she was going to die.

And yet, Kavanaugh is voted in as Supreme Court Justice.

When I am 15, a boy corners me at a party. His mouth is pressed against my ear. “You look like a girl who loves to be fucked,” he says. I am drunk, my head is spinning and his hand is moving up my shirt. I am frozen to the wall but am eventually able to push him away.

To watch Ford’s testimony is to experience the power of a woman’s mind. How it clings to the details, ingrains them in our bones. I, like Ford, will never forget what was done to me. Our bodies become blueprints of the trauma, allowing us to map everything out, trace our fingers over the memories. Here, we say, here is where it happened.

Ford has spent years compressing anger into resilience, churning these tragedies into action.

“I am terrified,” she tells the committee. Her words echo inside of me, pinballing off every memory. His face, his laugh, his hands. I am terrified, I am terrified, I am terrified.

For years afterwards, the boy continues to threaten me. He tells me if I don’t give him what he wants, he will tell everyone what a dirty slut I am. How I let him feel me up at a party. How I love to be fucked.

I am 20 now and still coming to terms with what was done. I still feel the anxiety creeping through me, the doubt lacing itself through my brain. It took years for me to understand that this was sexual assault, and I continue to question it today.

When we broadcast women’s stories and force them into telling the world the angry things that have been done to them behind closed doors and then continue to side with men, it makes survivors question their experience.

We see our assaulters accepted into universities, law firms, the Supreme Court, the Oval Office. Their actions become policies and their victims become afterthoughts.

Sexual assault trials are often described as “he said, she said.” This is an age-old notion of back and forth, of trying to decide which side to take, of figuring out who to believe. But this is false: sexual assault trials, more often than not, play out as “he said, she said, he said.” We do not give women the same level of power or respect as men to imply an even transaction.

In truth, women do not get much say at all. We are allowed to speak, yes, but we often end up with a metaphorical hand slapped over our mouth, silencing us.

When I watch Kavanaugh defend himself, with arrogance, anger and impatience, the memory of my own assault grows inside me.

I feel his hand on my thigh, his eyes following me down the hallway. I can remember the corner he pushed me into, feel the walls closing in on my back. More than anything, I can feel the silence that enveloped me in the aftermath, how I tried to speak, so many times, but never could.

My body still tenses up at parties with unfamiliar faces. I still choose not to sit in corners, scared of being trapped.

There are memories that never leave us; they unspool with us, embed themselves into our cells. Some days, they are small; other days, they are suffocating.

I often think of myself as a part of a larger community of sexual assault survivors; there are days we wake up unscathed, the thought so small that it may as well be nonexistent. But we will always be women who carry pepper spray in the dark. Women who are nervous on crowded subways and silent streets. We will always see shadows and think danger.

“My responsibility is to tell the truth,” Ford testifies. The unwavering, terrifying truth. The truth she has kept inside of her for years, let sink into her bones.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford: I believe you, I believe you, I believe you. I will not let you bear this burden alone.

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