For many around the country, Christine Blasey Ford’s Sept. 27 testimony before the U.S. Senate — she accused Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her as a teenager, which he denies — revived painful memories of trauma.
That included people in the Monadnock Region, where Ford’s testimony reverberated through therapy sessions and interactions with crisis centers and conversations on the street.
“We’re seeing individuals who have had previous experiences of trauma being triggered, not only in terms of memories of trauma, but experiences of being angry and hurt and unheard and not recognized,” said Dr. Jilisa Snyder, the clinical director of the Anna Marsh Behavioral Care Clinic, an outpatient psychotherapy provider at the Brattleboro Retreat.
The Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro — a women’s shelter and support organization for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse — has had an increase in callers to its hotline, according to Shari, a community outreach advocate who did not give her last name for safety reasons.
A similar phenomenon has happened in New Hampshire, said Madison Lightfoot, a spokeswoman for the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“New Hampshire’s crisis centers have seen an increase in calls to their confidential hotlines, as well as an uptick in community engagement on social media,” Lightfoot wrote in an emailed statement. “Many survivors are indicating that their reason for reaching out for support is directly related to the national spotlight on these issues right now.”
One of those crisis centers is the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention in Keene. Assistant Director Shanna Beckwith said the center saw a jump in web and social media activity, starting about a day before the hearing on Thursday, Sept. 27, and continuing into the weekend. The engagement was especially notable on posts related to the Kavanaugh hearing, she said.
Sexual and domestic violence often stays hidden, and it’s unusual for a story of sexual assault to garner this kind of attention, Beckwith said. “It brings up a lot of past experiences for people.”
On Sept. 27, Ford told senators that in 1982, when she was 15, a 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her down during a party, groped her, tried to remove her clothes and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams.
Kavanaugh denied the allegations and claimed to be a victim of a partisan smear campaign meant to derail his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican lawmakers have largely backed him, while excoriating Democrats for what they described as a last-ditch attempt at character assassination. Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of not sufficiently investigating allegations by Ford and others.
As expected, the Senate on Saturday afternoon voted to confirm Kavanaugh.
Watching someone recount an assault can affect people in different ways, said Snyder, the Brattleboro Retreat psychologist. For people who have lived through sexual assault or other trauma, it can dredge up difficult memories, cause emotional pain and even induce physical symptoms of stress.
“It can also affect people who have in other ways felt frightened, stigmatized, not believed, not recognized, not heard, fearful about speaking about something that had happened to them,” she said.
Since Ford’s allegations surfaced in mid-September, the Monadnock Area Peer Support Agency in Keene has seen “a consistent increase in members processing their own trauma with sexual violence in several groups,” the agency’s executive director, Peter Starkey, wrote in an email.
Keene-based psychotherapist Richard C. Donovan has noticed clients talking about the allegations — though not so much in connection to their own trauma.
“It’s more of their present attitudes toward Kavanaugh himself, and the anger that some people are feeling,” Donovan said.
Along with that, he’s seen relief that such stories, often suppressed, are being aired. He believes the attention may also be causing some men to reevaluate their past behavior.
The effects are not contained to spaces of mental healing, Shari, the Women’s Freedom Center advocate, said.
“We’re having more in-depth conversations, even with folks who may not identify as survivors,” she said, including at community events.
Recently, she was setting up a storefront display about Domestic Violence Awareness Month on Brattleboro’s Main Street. Far more than past years, pedestrians stopped in “to talk about what’s going on right now,” she said.
Similarly, Snyder said people she knows through a variety of ways — not just through her professional practice — were affected by Ford’s testimony.
It’s wrong, she said, to think that “this kind of anguish is happening only to people who are seeking psychological or psychiatric care, or people who have had specific traumas in their life.”
The Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention serves Cheshire County and western Hillsborough County. It runs a 24-hour hotline at 1-888-511-6287 for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of abuse. In Windham County, Vt., the Women’s Crisis Center has a 24-hour hotline for people of any gender: 802-254-6954.
This article has been updated with the correct day of the Senate vote to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh.