Experts: Raw, emotional testimony in Kavanaugh hearing a possible ‘trigger’ for sex assault victims

The message for survivors: There is support if you need it.

Experts: Raw, emotional testimony in Kavanaugh hearing a possible ‘trigger’ for sex assault victims
Christine Blasey Ford testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) (Source: Saul Loeb)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The raw, emotional testimony in Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill is a possible “trigger” for survivors of sexual abuse, experts say.

They’re urging those who have experienced sexual trauma to seek out support if they need it.

Their message: "It’s OK to not be OK. Step away from this if you must. Your mental health is more important.”

In his testimony Thursday, Kavanaugh decried the nomination process as a “national disgrace” and reiterated his denial that he never sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser, or anyone else.

Ford finished testifying in front of the committee earlier, recounting her allegations to senators, and a riveted nation, in a drama that threatens to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Ford said that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as he and a friend shared “uproarious laughter” in a locked room at a 1980s high school gathering.

As Ford talked about the attack, journalists inside the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony reported on hearing crying and seeing tears from members of the audience and staff members.

Ford also testified she has been coping with “anxiety, phobia and PTSD-like symptoms, more specifically claustrophobia, panic.”

Experts say that’s not uncommon.

And, they say, the public nature of the hearings are possible triggers for sex assault survivors.

“When a victim goes through these experiences, they’re under a lot of trauma,” said Lynn Costeles, who’s with the sex trafficking unit at the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office.

She added that the nature of the hearings and the allegations “can put a chilling effect on the willingness (of a victim) to come forward.” But, she said, “there is a lot of support in the community.”

According to the Sex Abuse Treatment Center on Oahu, people who have been sexually assaulted often experience intense physical and emotional reactions during and immediately following the assault and for a long time afterward.

Additionally, two out of three incidents of sexual assault are unreported.


The National Sexual Assault Hotline is free, confidential and available 24/7. Call 800-656-HOPE. There are local 24-hour hotlines as well:

  • Oahu Sex Abuse Treatment Center: 808-524-7273
  • Big Island: 808-935-0677
  • Maui County: 866-443-5702
  • Kauai: 808-245-4144

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