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Callers flood national sexual assault hotline during Ford, Kavanaugh hearing

The National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 201% spike in calls after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified on Thursday.

Rachel Mitchell (R), chief of the Special Victims Division of the Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona, questions Christine Blasey Ford at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
Rachel Mitchell (R), chief of the Special Victims Division of the Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona, questions Christine Blasey Ford at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

On Thursday, a teary-eyed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in great detail about having been sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as millions watched. 

“I believed he was going to rape me,” Ford said under oath.

Ford pointedly recounted how Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge locked her in a bedroom, where the former pinned her down and “got on top” of her. She remembers how the two laughed as she was underneath Kavanaugh, a now debilitating memory.    

The country fixated on this scene of a sexual assault survivor addressing her accuser. Thursday’s hearing was a big moment because a Supreme Court seat is at stake, but it was also a triggering moment for many people watching across the country, forcing them to remember their own assaults or near-misses.

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Indeed, the largest anti-sexual violence group RAINN estimates that their hotline heard from a record number of callers on Thursday; the National Sexual Assault Hotline saw a 201 percent increase above normal volume:

Over the weekend, the hotline saw a 57 percent uptick compared to an average Friday to Sunday.

“Our victim service programs went from helping about 15,000 victims per month to helping about 22,000 per month,” press secretary Sara McGovern told CNN of the weekend spike.

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When the Access Hollywood tape where then-candidate and now-president Donald Trump said he can grab any woman dropped, the hotline spiked 33 percent.

The group has asked for the Senate to postpone a vote until the FBI investigates the allegation.

“The risks of a brief delay in a confirmation vote are far less than the risks of a lifetime appointment made in haste,” said Jodi Omear, vice president of communications in a statement.

Sexual assault survivors should be able to decide themselves on whether to make their experience public, a point Ford stressed during her own testimony. While Ford was effectively forced into publicizing her own traumatizing experience, her bravery inspired others to speak.

“A high power woman who’s brave enough to tell her story about a high power man is encouraging to other women who previously thought they don’t have a voice and gone through a similar situation,” said Dr. Jennifer Conti, a California ob/gyn and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.

“Survivors experience trauma differently and everyone heals differently. It’s important that we respect that,” she added.

How, when, and why people decide to share varies because their background and life experience vary.

Multiple women called into C-SPAN on Thursday to share their own experience with sexual assault. One 65-year-old Republican described how three men attacked her at 17, saying “I thought I was going to be raped.” Another, a 26-year-old Democrat, didn’t go into detail about her assault but phoned in to plead for the public to believe survivors.

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“It’s very important, I think, to victims of sexual assault that we take these accusations seriously,” the 26-year-old said.

Activists on Capitol Hill also shared their stories, a show of solidarity with Ford. One activist, Robyn Swirling, even told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that she was raped, hoping to ask him and others to listen to and believe sexual assault survivors’ experiences. Instead he said, “I’m sorry… tell the cops.”

However survivors chose to share on Thursday — be it privately to professionals or publicly to anyone who’d listen — they did and many were inspired by Ford.

“Dr. Christine Blasey Ford should not have to do this, but her courage is inspiring to me as a survivor,” said Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, on Twitter. “Thank you, Dr. Ford.”

This piece was updated to include new estimates of the spike in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline. On Thursday, RAINN estimated that there was a 147 percent spike. On Friday morning, they said the number was actually 201 percent.


If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or visit the Online Hotline, y en español a rainn.org/es.