"Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 New International Version (NIV)
Content warning: sexual assault, death
I’ve been deeply troubled this week by the evolving allegations of sexual assault facing Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and by the response of the U.S. Senate in response to those allegations. As a woman, a physician, and a Christian, I’ve been thinking about wounds and doubt. Dr. Jessi Gold wrote about how we shouldn’t have to be opening our wounds to prove that things happen. Dr. Esther Choo wrote that "The onus for changing male behavior and societal norms should not be placed on women.”
And yet. I watched a nurse from Boston stand in the Russell Senate Building and tearfully recount what it felt like to be choked and raped. “For God’s sakes, for all the boys, girls, who have been assaulted over the years, for God’s sakes, when will you stand up for the American people? For democracy?” In posting the video, Helen Brosnan noted that "We are at a moment in history where women have to repeat their trauma to the masses to literally beg Senators to vote with moral clarity.”
I am reminded of the “Bring the Dead” protest during the AIDS epidemic, when families brought the ashes of their loved ones that died from AIDS and poured them on the White House lawn in a desperate attempt to get more funding for research into treatments. I cannot watch that scene without my heart breaking, over and over again. “How to Survive a Plague” documents the work of Act Up during the early HIV/AIDS epidemic. Their activism helped expedite the discovery of AZT as a drug to fight the HIV virus and helped bring that drug to the patients who needed it. They bared their wounds to save their lives, and to some extent, it worked.
Everyone telling their #metoo stories and #whyididntreport stories are baring their wounds, too. We tell our stories in order to live.
Reach out your hand. Stop doubting and believe.
As an Emergency physician, I treat wounds of all kinds. I have repaired hundreds of lacerations, splinted broken limbs, put salve on burns, and put ice packs on bumps and bruises. But I also see many less visible wounds that need just as much care. When survivors of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse tell me their stories, I do my best listen and provide psychological first aid. I say, “I hear you.” I say, “I believe you.” I do my best to connect them to the acute and long term therapeutic resources needed to heal those deep and painful wounds.
Wounds need to be recognized in order to heal. Wounds need to be cared for. As we care for physical wounds, we know that any time we change a dressing to clean and nurse a wound, it may be very painful. We do our best to prepare by minimizing unnecessary exposures and exams, treating pain, and doing only what is necessary to help the wound heal.
The same is true for psychological wounds. When a patient comes in to the Emergency Department after a sexual assault, we do our best to avoid having that person tell the story of what happened multiple times to avoid worsening the trauma they’ve already been through. When we have to deliver bad news about a new cancer diagnosis or a family member’s death, we prepare just as we would for a complicated procedure. We know that people may remember what we say for the rest of their lives, and we do our best to honor that gravity of that moment.
Some wounds heal with barely a scar, and we may never think of them again. Some wounds - physical or emotional - never fully heal. Those wounds become a part of who we are. It’s essential to acknowledge their presence, soothe them, and care for them, regardless of how they got there. The process of justice is distinct from the process of healing, but not completely separate. Justice is about accountability. Accountability starts with acknowledging the truth and believing in those wounds.
As I watch Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick come forward with credible, substantiated allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, I also watch those in power do their best to shame, blame, and discredit those women. I am particularly appalled by the hypocrisy of those who purport to be faithful Christians in order to gain political power, but then use that power in a markedly unchristian way. As the Catholic church that Judge Kavanaugh is a member of, and the faith community I grew up in during my childhood in Washington, D.C., experiences a sexual abuse crisis of it’s own, it is all the more imperative to create systems of mutual respect, transparency, and accountability.
Sadly, the stories of these women are embroiled in a very high-stakes political challenge timed closely with the mid-term elections, so much of the rhetoric surrounding these cases that is so deeply about them is also not at all about them. It’s about the fear of losing political momentum and power. All the more reason that these allegations should be investigated by a more neutral party like the FBI to determine what happened in the 1980s and to add clarity on what justice and accountability look like today.
Beyond what happens in the Senate this week, survivors cannot be expected to bear their wounds in order to change a culture that shirks accountability for those who inflicted them.
Stop doubting and believe.
You are not alone. Confidential help is available for free from RAINN.
Call 1-800-656-4673 or go to National Sexual Assault Hotline
Free. Confidential. 24/7.