Public still confused about memories of sexual assault

By John Grohol, Psy.D.
November 9th, 2018

me too sexual assaultIf the U.S. Senate hearings of now-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh taught us anything, it’s that the public has a very poor understanding of the science behind trauma and memory.

Republican senators convinced themselves that the victim – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault back in high school – must have mixed up Kavanaugh’s face with her actual attacker.

Of course, psychologists know that such a belief flies in the face of all the science, research, and thousands of victims’ stories that have been documented over more than the past five decades.

Sadly, psychologist and other scientific voices were drowned out in the politics of the hearing. The science clearly demonstrates that a victim’s memory of a sexual assault or rape is quite clear when it comes to the face of the attacker. That is something very few victims will ever forget. It is a tableau that they carry with them throughout the rest of their entire lives.

If you’re interested in learning more about how memories work in sexual assault and rape victims, I’d encourage you to read this article for further information:

Psychologists need to work harder to inform our clients, politicians, and policy makers about these issues of basic science. The surprising statements of respected U.S. senators about this topic made many of them look ridiculous and ignorant, stuck in unscientific, sexist, patriarchal belief systems of a bygone era.

This most recent episode in U.S. politics should act as a cautionary tale about how, when it’s politically expedient to do so, people can suddenly throw science to the wind.  Science doesn’t care for a person’s politics. Politicians should, however, care about the immutable facts and data of science.

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