— Trigger and Content Warning —
Like with the “Friendship Breakup” series, over the next few weeks, I’ll be answering commonly asked questions surrounding, specifically, Dr Ford and the entire fiasco that we just watched.
As this topic is of a sensitive nature, and many of you may have questions or stories you’d like to share or have answered, please feel free to drop a message in my Facebook inbox or DM me on my Instagram, @thingscarlaloves. You do not have to share your story in the comment section (or anywhere else) if you do not feel comfortable.
As always, there will be a list of helpline services added, if you need help. I strongly urge that you confide in someone you trust in order to help you heal.
So one of the most common questions I’ve both personally been asked and have heard millions of people ask is about Ford’s recollection of the events in her testimony. Most people are under the false pretense that people who are faced with traumatic situations somehow remember absolutely everything about their traumatic experience.
This, quite simply, isn’t true.
Despite common belief, there’s actually four main psychological responses to fear, and they are: fight, flight, faint and freeze.
Despite the fact that half of our population will choose faint or freeze as their standard psychological response to fear, most people aren’t actually even aware there’s more than two standard responses – and that freezing is actually the most common response, we have a lot of people who are deciding not only what Ford should have done then, before, and now, but are also criticising her responses, which is a surprise to absolutely no one.
It’s important that anyone reading this understands something incredibly important: Human memory sucks.
Like, it seriously fucking sucks, and I’m not talking about a tragic-circumstance-only-sucking.
I frequently have to teach my students about things like memory, and even though they are completely aware that’s what we’re doing, most of them can’t remember things that have just happened, or what has just changed – and they knew what to expect.
Your memory doesn’t magically become clearer after you experience a traumatic event.
Some people who are sexually assaulted or raped do really remember everything.
Some people who are sexually assaulted or raped really do remember nothing.
Some people who are sexually assaulted or raped will remember some things very clearly, and won’t be able to recall other details at all or as vividly.
It is also incredibly common for sexual assault and rape victims to get their story confused, which I will explain in the next post, but this is such a serious topic, and I have been asked so many questions on this topic, that I’d prefer to break it down as much as possible.
The first time I was raped, I was sleeping in my bed. It’s a story I have every intention of telling; however, for now, I just want to give basic details to illustrate my point. I woke up to a man’s penis inside of me, and I started screaming (both from pain and shock). I fell out of my bed, or slipped, or jumped out, or something. I don’t know. The guy was trying to say something like, ‘I thought you wanted it’, and I could hear my housemates’ footsteps as they came running to check that everything was fine. While I was trying to process everything – and remember, I’d just woken up – my housemates opened my door and the guy was still speaking.
I didn’t know what to do, and my brain wasn’t ready to process the information.
I knew what I wanted, though.
I hadn’t wanted to have sex.
I was a virgin, or at least I had been.
And this was all far too much for me to handle.
I don’t remember what I said to my housemates. I don’t even remember who came running to my door. I could guess, but that’s all it would be.
Now, there’s two reasons for the amount of gaps in this story.
The first one being that it was a traumatic experience and our memory is not perfect.
The second one being – in my situation – far more prominent for the ‘convenient amnesia’ people like me, and maybe Dr Ford and I’m guessing billions of others, is that I didn’t want to deal with what happened.
Or, to put it more accurately, my brain physically couldn’t handle it.
It literally became easier – for a variety of reasons, and again, separate post, different day – to pretend it never happened, to the point where I actively convinced myself it hadn’t happened.
As a result of my brain’s desperate attempt to protect me, it decided to block out significant parts of what happened.
While I never truly forgot what happened, and I don’t remember everything, but I do feel the pressure that I somehow should remember everything.
I know that it was my first year of uni, and I’m pretty sure it was during the warmer months, and I know that I could definitively track it down to a certain period – like Dr Ford did – because I remember exactly who attacked me, but I don’t remember the day.
I know I woke up, so it was obviously some time in the morning, but I don’t remember if it was early, mid-morning or closer to noon.
My first year of uni was in 2007, so that’s literally over a decade ago.
How many significant events can you remember, in perfect detail, that happened ten years ago?
Because in 2007, I also turned 18, and I can also tell you my memory of that night isn’t perfect either (though that might have a little more to do with the five or six shots I had. I’m Australian, our drinking legal age is 18, before you ask. Below is the photo my mum took as I told her ‘I wasssssssss juss fun ad ‘old me purse annnns take a pic’. Can you tell? >> To be honest, I wouldn’t feel it until about an hour after I got home – I mean, the bad feeling – and I had sooooo many regrets).
But I can’t remember much of my first day of uni, either. I remember meeting my very first friend, a young woman named Melinda who I still have the pleasure of talking with, who also received the wrong email, like I did, and was never notified by a lecture room change, like I hadn’t been, and we ended up in the wrong room.
Do I know what day that was?
No fucking idea.
You know what I do remember?
How I felt. I remember Melinda, and not anyone else – there was maybe five or six of us – because I saw her multiple times after, and we developed a friendship. I remember the feeling of humiliation and stupidity, because I thought I’d done everything right and I was so confused and so lost, and how grateful I felt bumping into Mel.
Rainy or sunny?
What room did we go to, and what room where we meant to go to?
I honestly can’t tell you any of that.
If you took me back to my campus at Kelvin Grove, I could walk you around and say, definitively, which block we ended up in, because we ended up in there more than once. I could roughly guess where we did end up, because I remember coming across it in my fourth year and going, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot how much of a dud I was on my first day’, but could I definitively say that the room you took me to, and that I pointed to, was that room?
No. I couldn’t be certain.
So, whether or not you’re a victim who has a vivid recollection, whether you were like me and denied what took place, whether you literally developed amnesia, whether you can remember some things well and others less well, it’s irrelevant.
Memory isn’t as linear as we’d like it to be, and quite frankly, under that kind of pressure and trauma that Dr Ford would have faced (both during the sexual assault, and more recently), she did a fan-fucking-tastic job. So no, she shouldn’t have to have a better memory. She recalled everything she called, made sure she could corroborate what she could, and she tried – repeatedly – to explain that memory isn’t perfect.
The next time you think it’s okay to question Dr Ford – or anyone else’s recollection – because the victim isn’t remembering well enough for you, try to remember your memory sucks just as much and no one’s currently putting you on trial in front of the world as the president of your country mocks you and every other rape victim while telling you it’s your fault for not remembering more clearly.
In Emergencies: 000
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
— Sources —
Bachelor of Education: English and History
Diploma in Criminology and Profiling
Diploma in Forensic Science
Background in law and psychology
Teacher 7+ years
Background in special needs, learning support – other specific teaching fields that required hands-on development.
NB: This is a declaration of the background of my personal knowledge, collected over the years via a professional form of education and development. Some of these take the form of actual degrees and others come in the form of necessary professional development. When doing your own, you should always try and verify the person’s credibility. My credibility, nor anyone else’s, is not with their education. Everyone has biases and no one is infallible. I am deliberately including some of my background education to highlight this, because you should be questioning information you are receiving.