Domestic & Sexual Violence

I was moved to write a letter to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during her testimony and subsequent questioning, on Thursday, September 26, 2018. I wrote this letter after she left the hearing, in the early afternoon, and sent it to her, in care of her lawyer. I am so glad that I wrote this before I saw the second half of the hearing — because it’s a capsule in time of what I felt after seeing her part of the day. Things certainly shifted after that, and have many times since.

Friday night, September 28th, I pulled together a Solidarity Gathering at South Church in Portsmouth, NH. I was compelled to hold space for everyone feeling like they needed community. Only a few people showed up, but many more expressed gratitude for knowing that it was happening at all. It felt important, urgent. It was totally necessary for me. We lit candles, we shared our stories, we shared our feelings, we talked about how we could change our culture from perpetuating the dangerous circumstances that make situations like these all too common. It was healing.

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It was easy to tell myself I wasn’t doing work that supported the NRA. Until a man walked into a club in Orlando and killed 49 people, injuring over 50 others. Once again, dozens of innocent people were dead. Our nation mourned. Vigils were held. Arguments raged. Who is culpable for letting this happen again?

I was. And I didn’t act alone.

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“My sister was lucky when her husband tried to kill her 18 months ago. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. That attack against her life gave her the courage to finally call for help and escape nearly two decades of abuse. Hearing this story devastated us, her loving family who had suspected for decades but hoped it was just our imagination, but it also made us whole again by allowing us back into her life.

Before escaping through a window, she tried to calm her kids, my 11-year-old niece and screaming, crying 6-year-old nephew, who had just witnessed his father strangling his mother. “Who knew your own dad could turn out to be a bad guy?” he asked. As she waited outside in the freezing cold Grafton, NH night, hiding in the dark in her pajamas, for the one and half hours it took the police to arrive after she called for help, safety seemed so far away.

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You’re probably familiar with the brain’s two most well-known trauma responses: “fight” and “flight.” But there’s a third reaction to trauma that often goes unmentioned, although it’s an overwhelmingly common response, especially in cases of sexual assault and rape: the “freeze” response.

Would you be surprised to learn that over 90 percent of survivors of sexual assault respond by freezing? I heard this statistic at a recent Neoteric Dance Collaborative event at The Music Hall called One Billion Rising. The event, part of a global movement to end violence against women, was a fundraiser for Haven, a local organization focused on preventing sexual abuse and providing support for those impacted by domestic and sexual violence. During the show, ballet dancer Lissa Curtis shared her story of freezing in response to a sexual assault, and said “this happens with more than 90 percent of women.”

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