The past six weeks of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation have marked one of the most monumental political events of Trump’s presidency and Supreme Court History. Over 20 million people watched live as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing highlighted critical issues of political agenda, government policy, and gender discrimination. Additionally, it compelled viewers to consider the deep-seated, long-term impact of sexual trauma and the importance of sexual violence in today’s political and social climate.
According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Perpetrators of sexual abuse are not only physically abusive, but are verbally abusive, antagonistic, and emotionally manipulative. The topic of sexual violence in our society is multi-faceted and complex, rooted deeply in our historical and legal suppression of women. In examining these issues, cultural scientists often focus on the corrosive power of hyper-sexualization in media and “rape culture,” a term coined by feminists in the late-70s that covers all “jokes, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words and imagery” that normalize sexual coercion. People promoting rape culture often regard the prominence of sexual assault as an “inevitable” facet of reality. The effects of over-sexualization and sexual commodification have been distinctly linked to mental conditions such as depression and eating disorders. Additionally, the hyper-sexualization of modern culture has enabled and permitted the ambiguity surrounding the definition of sexual abuse to continue.
Moreover, while there are 321,500 cases of rape and sexual assault reported annually in the U.S., this number is far less than the projected actual number, as victims are often too afraid to report their experiences. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, whose traumatic experience of sexual assault went unreported for decades, is a classic example of “the silent victim.” The uniqueness of her case being made public allows us to understand more deeply how an “indelible” trauma like sexual assault can affect our relationships, well-being and sense of safety for years following the incident. The effects of sexual abuse have been linked to an enormity of physiological conditions such as PTSD, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, suicide, insomnia, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, sexual dysfunction, reproductive disease, cancer, digestive issues, emotional instability, autoimmune dysfunction, diabetes, and heart disease. (New Scientist, Committee on Healthcare) Sexual trauma impacts not only victims, but families, communities, companies, economies, and the environment. Financially, rape is the “costliest crime for victims in the United States,” racking up to $127 billion annually. These costs include medical, mental health, social and emergency services; insurance; legal costs; and lost productivity, wages, and fringe benefits.