Dear Senate Judiciary Committee: I come before you as a survivor of sexual assault when I was a 15-year-old girl. It is a memory of such deep and abiding pain that I have spent a good portion of my life since then attempting to bury it, forget it, put it behind me. None of these attempts have been successful.
As adults we tell stories of our childhood injuries. Falls from bikes leading to broken arms. Bites by dogs. Badly sprained ankles from encountering a gopher hole. All of these stick in our memory. While we may not remember the date or exactly who was there, other details remain crystalline: the furrow on the brow of our father as he leaned over and beheld our ghastly crooked arm; the way the sun glinted off the dog’s back as it came running toward us growling; the squiggled, colorful notes our classmates wrote on our walking casts.
We all know that human memory is imperfect and full of gaps, but there are some experiences in this life of such overarching and awful significance that they present us with a paradox: We will both never forget them and never want to relate them to another human being. The pain of them is too intense, and the vulnerability of divulging them to another exposes such raw, tender and conflicted emotions roiling deep inside us that we fear the other’s response, no matter how intimate the relationship may be.
Sexual assault is one of those experiences.
I felt no more capable of going to ‘local Law Enforcement Authorities’ or my ‘loving parents’ to tell them what had befallen me as I would have been to fly to the moon and share my sorrow with the rocks and the stars and the dust there.
I do not know the personal histories of anyone on this committee with respect to such assaults. Perhaps all of you have been fortunate enough to have avoided such grievous pain among the many other tragedies that can befall a human life. But I am fairly certain all of you have experienced your own tragedies, and know of the deeply personal, piercing pain they can bring, the kind that leaves you feeling like simply cowering in your room and wailing to the heavens.
And you know how essentially private such pain can be, how alone it can make you feel, how little you are moved to divulge and share it with others.
I am thinking now of the many war veterans I and no doubt every one of you have come across in our lives. And how so often we hear, “Oh, the one thing Dad never talked about was the war.”
Yes, some of the things we endure in this life seem beyond any words that our memories can form.
So despite what modern psychology tells us would be a healthy purging if we could but share our pain with others, we instead often stay mute in a private hell that was not of our making, but which we must struggle to contain for the rest of our lives.
Some 36 years ago, a teenage Brett Kavanaugh accosted me as I climbed the stairs of an adult-free home in Maryland where a group of teenagers had gathered for an alcohol-fueled party. As he shoved me into a room, jumped on top of me, fumbled with my clothes and then covered my mouth as I screamed, my entire world seemed to collapse into itself in one blinding second.
The terror of that moment—its violence, its overwhelming forcefulness, the sudden, unbidden question of whether I would be further violated, raped, my virginity taken from me by brute force, my very survival suddenly in question as I struggled to breathe while Brett’s friend Mark Judge laughed in the corner and finally jumped on us—has stayed with me my entire life.
Certain details of that day and its background are of course fuzzy. (On what street did my fall from the bike occur? Where did the dog go after it bit me? Was I in third or fourth grade with that ankle cast?)
But I can say no more than this to every one of you in this room today as I swear this under oath: There is no forgetting the terror of that assault, the look on Brett’s face as he towered and flailed above me, the fear, confusion, humiliation, shame and grief that dominated my life in the immediate aftermath of the event, and which has dogged my memory and shaped many of my behaviors ever since.
A number of you have seemed to challenge the veracity of my account, questioning my motives and my memory even before you summoned me to speak with you. It has been suggested by one member of this committee that I am “mixed up,” that I am surely “confusing” Mr. Kavanaugh with someone else. That “there’s no question” that I have been “coached by special interest groups,” because my story is “too contrived,..so slick it doesn’t compute.”
The president’s son offered a crude drawing that made a trifle of my experience, suggesting Mr. Kavanaugh had at worst made an innocent gesture of childish affection. The president himself has weighed in, emphatically stating, “with no doubt,” that if the attack on me had been as bad as I said it was, charges would surely have been “immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities” either by me or my “loving parents.”
Things like this could only have been said by people who have no knowledge, experience, empathy or interest in learning about the true devastation and complex, desperate psychological adjustments sexual assault victims must undergo in order to deal with their trauma.
Dear Committee Members, you with your relatively advanced years, perhaps with children or other loved ones whom you have helped see through their adolescence and beyond: I was 15 years old.
Neither wise nor wary of the world I was entering in that privileged, private school enclave of suburban America. Something unspeakable had happened to me. I pick with particular care that word: unspeakable.
I felt no more capable of going to “local Law Enforcement Authorities” or my “loving parents” to tell them what had befallen me as I would have been to fly to the moon and share my sorrow with the rocks and the stars and the dust there.
These legalisms: “date, time, and place,” in the president’s words, simply have no meaning; they are impossible to recall, completely buried or never even recorded under the avalanche, the tsunami, the hurricane of terror and its many attendant emotions that a sexual assault brings on.
And I wish to state here, in as emphatic and certain terms as it is humanly possible to convey, that an assault of this nature is never forgotten. Its essential components are seared into my memory like nothing else in my life: a drunken, violent and seemingly obsessed boy, far more physically powerful than me and egged on by another physically superior friend, had my fate, my very life, in his hands.
I was well aware of who this boy and his friend were. It was not dark, they were not hooded, we had all been together downstairs in a seemingly innocent enough gathering that turned with appalling swiftness into the most horrifying experience of my life.
With time, great patience and love from my husband, and skillful professional help from therapists, I have done my best to heal from this encounter. But recovery has been slow and hard-won, as I know every survivor of sexual assault will tell you it is.
Forgetting is never an option in that healing. Forgiveness may be, if those who visited this profound injustice upon me were ever to seek it.
But as I stand before you today, I can only know what I know, remember what I remember, the essentials of it etched in my mind and heart and soul and deep in the pit of my stomach with all the stark clarity of a leafless winter tree against a bright December sky.
I am neither mistaken nor “mixed up” about those essentials.
I am not confusing anyone for someone else, not weaving this story out of whole cloth for some simple political gain.
Please ask yourselves: I would subject myself and my loved ones to this spectacle, imperil our safety and peace of mind, upend my entire life and theirs, by making up a story in an act of naked political sabotage?
Nothing in my life, my background, my values, would suggest that is remotely possible. I would have to be insane or deviously, colossally corrupt to spin such a web.
And though I feel vulnerable and wounded and fearful of what might lie ahead, I am not insane, nor corrupt. I am simply a private citizen, trying to lead a decent and productive life, sharing a profound, painful truth about something awful that happened to me, that I feel, against all my more fearful judgment, is important and compelling enough for me to speak out about for the good of this nation.
Hence I am doing so, in all fear and trembling and humility, but also, most importantly, in the absolute certainty of what happened, who was there, who did the things they did, and what the costs and consequences of it have been for my life.
Part of that cost has been to appear here before you today, and expose myself to your scrutiny, your doubts, and perhaps your disbelief. So be it. I am here to say my peace, and this statement has been my sincere effort to begin doing so. I am now open to your questions.
Graphic, pointed, all too real: Lady Gaga, continuing to don her mantle as an artist with something to say.
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drawn curtains by Andrew Hidas, https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/
Birds in sky by Rosana Prada, https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanastardust/