On Thursday afternoon, Kalyne Foster Renda, associate director of Monarch Services, began noticing an increase in calls to the local nonprofit, which offers support to abuse victims and those in crisis. Women also started showing up to Monarch in person to talk about their experiences as survivors of sexual abuse.
Foster knew that the spike in walk-ins was no anomaly. She had been listening all day to the live testimonies of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford as the two appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was considering President Donald Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The committee was hearing allegations that Kavanaugh had assaulted Ford in high school. Such hearings can be very triggering for survivors, Renda says.
Its impact was felt nationwide. The National Sexual Assault Hotline reported a 201 percent spike in phone calls. One 76-year-old woman from Missouri called in to a live C-SPAN broadcast to share about an assault she had experienced in the second grade.
That same afternoon, Monarch Services organized an impromptu healing circle for victims, with calming music.
“It was very helpful,” Renda says of the safe space. “Even for those who haven’t been able to come into the office, having someone to talk to on the phone is very comforting.”
Many of the survivors, Renda adds, have mentioned Ford’s connections to Santa Cruz. Ford is a Palo Alto University professor and an avid surfer. According to a Bay Area News Group report, she spends a lot of time on this side of the hill, along with her husband and two sons, who were in the Junior Lifeguards program. Locals held a rally in support of Ford at the town clock on Thursday afternoon.
Bettina Aptheker, a distinguished feminist professor at UCSC, spoke at the rally, where women showed up toting large signs supporting Ford, and motorists honked in support as they drove past. Santa Cruz Women’s March organizers held the rally before Kavanaugh’s testimony and after Ford’s portion had wrapped up. “Hearing her testify like that was amazing,” Aptheker says.
Aptheker adds that she wasn’t at all surprised by the uptick in women seeking support in the wake of Thursday’s testimonies.
The hearing was everywhere—airing in bars, airports and living rooms across the country. Aptheker, herself a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, says that victims tuning in to an event like that will hear it differently than others might. “It triggers you, even when you only partially hear her,” she says. “You get inside her experience. Instead of being outside her, it’s an interior feeling.”
Renda says that calls to the center have increased over the past year, since revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior sparked the #MeToo movement.
Watching Ford’s story unfold has been both inspiring for victims and incredibly nerve-wracking, Renda says, even when compared to other stories of sexual violence. On the one hand, here’s this woman on live television showing the courage to share her story of an alleged high school trauma in front of some of the nation’s most prominent politicians and journalists—knowing full well that her account will be met with eye rolls (and even some death threats) from conservatives who support Kavanaugh.
It’s that last part, of course, that’s been difficult for victims, Renda says—watching a fellow survivor, with everything to lose, get criticized for speaking out about the sordid past of a man who has everything to gain. On top of that, there’s the very real possibility that the Senate could confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. The FBI is finally investigating some of the allegations against Kavanaugh with a weeklong inquiry, but it’s unclear how thorough the investigation will be.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), a crucial vote for Kavanaugh, called for the inquiry. The FBI has yet to interview several individuals whom the Democrats see as key witnesses.
Experts estimate that between just 2 and 10 percent of sexual assault reports are false and 63 percent of sexual assaults don’t get reported at all.
National pundits have mused in recent months about whether or not the #MeToo movement will go too far. Renda doesn’t believe there is a “too far” for the movement, given the harm that sexual violence inflicts on so many women, and plenty of men, too, she says.
“And the LGBT community has been victimized at an exponential rate,” Renda adds. “We need to address solutions, and women shouldn’t have to worry about being safe.”
Monarch Services is celebrating Domestic Violence Awareness Month for the month of October. Visit monarchscc.org for more information. The nonprofit’s 24-hour crisis hotline is 888-900-4232.