If watching the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee today is triggering your buried memories of assault—or even that time a friend told you about their experience with assault—you are one of many.
“We’ve seen a tremendous spike in calls as a result of the Kavanaugh hearings, particularly within the last 72 hours,” says Indira M. Henard, the executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, which is the designated sexual assault coalition for the District and offers a 24-hour hotline as well as free individual and group counseling.
She reports that calls to the DCRCC are “up 15 percent in general” and that the increase “really started at the height of the #MeToo movement,” with a flood of calls coming in as news broke on several of the higher profile cases, like that of Bill Cosby. The hotline takes calls from assault survivors at any phase in their recovery process, whether shortly after an incident or many years later.
“Survivors are calling our hotline [during the hearings],” Henard says. “Folks are upset. This is really bringing up a lot for people who have had sexual trauma. I think it’s also important to note that it’s not just folks who are survivors of sexual violence who are triggered. Even folks who don’t have sexual trauma in their history are being triggered by the treatment of Dr. Ford and what’s going on.”
The National Sexual Assault Hotline reports that today it saw “a 147% increase above normal volume.” (The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network houses that hotline.)
These organizations are not alone. Several organizations that serve survivors of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence have felt the waterfall of allegations against Kavanaugh in a number of ways.
Karma Cottman of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence has also seen an increase in the number people reaching out to them for help in recent days.
“Any time there is an incident like this where there is testimony or continuous testimony—it is triggering for survivors,” she says. “Particularly in this case where the survivor is believable and credible. And today, where you have very detailed accounts of what happened, that is another factor that can trigger people.”
Chandra Robinson, the director of programs for My Sister’s Place, provides the critical reminder that many of the staff members at crisis centers and organizations that help victims of sexual violence are survivors themselves.
“What I’m seeing is the impact on staff,” Robinson says. “We do the work, we’re on the ground. I’m not just talking about My Sister’s Place, but all of the organizations that help victims and survivors. [Today’s hearing] is heart-wrenching and shows the gap on how much work needs to be done.”
My Sister’s Place is a local organization that’s been working in the field of domestic violence for 40 years. They provided D.C. with its first domestic violence shelter and its first emergency hotline. Robinson is not able to speak to whether there have been an increase in calls today because she’s not located at the call center. My Sister’s Place now uses the city’s victim hotline: (844) 4HELPDC.
“The challenge is supporting those who are triggered,” Robinson says. “It’s required us to have a lot of dialogue and give staff the grace to [be emotional]. I’ve been in my office yelling. I’ve cried at my desk. I’ve walked out to get some air. I’ve clapped. Those are very human and real responses from anyone who really understands this.”
On the hearing, Robinson says, “It confirms everything we know about sexual assault. It confirms everything we know about trauma and what response could look like for an individual. Most survivors don’t have to tell the world. We’ll collect ourselves and decide where do we go from here.”
As the executive director of the Collective Action For Safe Spaces, Jessica Raven provides a pivotal service in the District in combating gendered assault and harassment—especially through the Safe Bars training program, which educates bar and restaurant staff on how to intervene.
Though CASS doesn’t provide direct services for survivors, Raven says they’ve “definitely seen an increase in requests for trainings” in recent days. For Raven and other CASS members, the recent news cycle has been tough. “CASS is made up of survivors organizing against gendered violence, and internally we’ve been seeking ways to support each other through this difficult week, month, year… [and] couple of years,” she says.
Sara McGovern, the press secretary for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, says that the national organization has also seen a sharp increase in people seeking their help. “Since Dr. Ford came forward we’ve seen a 45.6 percent uptick as compared to the same time period last year,” she tells City Paper. “I don’t have any exact numbers for today, but we are seeing a higher queue than a standard day.”
Henard says people can call the 24-hour hotline if they need emotional help or to be connected to counseling and other services. “People who have friends and family who were sexually assaulted—they can also call the hotline,” she adds.
D.C. Rape Crisis Center hotline: 202-333-RAPE (202-333-7273)
The DC Victim Hotline: 844-4HELPDC (844-443-5732)
This post has been updated with additional information on organizations supporting assault survivors.