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Kavanaugh vote triggers memories, anxiety for sexual assault victims

Becky Vargo • Oct 5, 2018 at 11:00 AM

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network has reported an almost 150 percent increase in hotline calls in the past few months since sexual assault allegations were leveled at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Calls to the Center for Women in Transition’s hotline have also increased, although the rate is a little lower at 24 percent, according to the center’s clinical services supervisor, Megan Hennessey. And that’s on top of everything that’s happened with the MeToo movement.

CWIT serves residents of West Michigan, mainly from Ottawa and Allegan counties, who are victims of sexual and domestic assault.

There have been so many calls for help recently, that — as hard as it is, Hennessey says — the center has had to turn some people away.

“We refer them to other organizations or therapists,” she said.

The constant barrage of information about sexual assault in the news and on social media acts as a trigger for victims of assault, Hennessey explained.

“Traumatic memories mess with your nervous system,” she said. “That makes you tense, on edge, and causes you to have nightmares.”

Hennessey said a lot of the work she is currently doing with clients is to make sure they are taking care of themselves and focusing on exercises such as deep breathing.

“If you calm your mind down, then your body will follow,” she said.

Many victims use avoidance to get through life, whether it’s suppressing the memories or resorting to drugs or alcohol to push them away. 

Hennessey said that everyone she has conversed with lately is talking about the Kavanaugh situation. A Kavanaugh confirmation would be really difficult for her clients, the therapist said.

“The news cycle has made them feel really distressed and triggered traumatic memories,” she said.

Hennessey noted that it’s hard for someone who has been through a sexual assault to see someone pushed through to a high court after being accused by a credible victim.

“I wonder and worry how Kavanaugh’s confirmation would affect my clients’ perceptions of their own self-worth,” she said.

The national conversations on sexual assault have pushed victims to the point where they can’t avoid what they’ve been through anymore, she said.

“That’s why they are reaching out … to talk to somebody about it and find ways to cope,” Hennessey said. “I want survivors to know that they are not alone in feeling whatever they are feeling about themselves. That’s where self-care is such a priority.”

You can request help 24/7 by calling the CWIT hotline at 800-848-5991. A Spanish language hotline is available at 866-728-2131.

For more information on the Center for Women in Transition, go online to cwitmi.org.

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