New York, NY
The following statement is attributable to the director of PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence, Karen Naimer:
“For decades, Physicians for Human Rights has trained thousands of health care professionals to evaluate survivors of physical, sexual and psychological trauma. We’ve heard the testimonies of countless women, girls, men, and boys, who have been attacked, assaulted, and raped. This week, as the world watched the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation proceedings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, we, at PHR, looked at the hearings through a medical and scientific lens. What we witnessed was nothing short of shameful.
“As an organization that has worked to help sexual violence survivors of all ages, and from all backgrounds, from the United States to Kenya, to the former Yugoslavia, we know all too well the cruel dichotomy of courage and fear that grips every survivor who decides to take a stand and speak out about the abuse that they have suffered.
“Among the most harmful and untrue narratives to surface in the Kavanaugh proceedings is the notion that a delay by a sexual violence survivor in reporting the abuse, or their incomplete memory of certain details, is a reflection of the veracity of the allegations themselves. These derisive insinuations could not be further from the truth. Such comments, made almost exclusively by men in power, including President Trump and several U.S. Senators, in recent days, reflect a damaging mythology that does nothing but compound the shame, anxiety and fear felt by survivors of sexual abuse. These blatantly false and archaic beliefs are not only unscientific and easily debunked by medical data, but they are the very reason that many survivors choose to never speak out about their experiences – to anyone – let alone in a publicly televised hearing.
“My colleague, Dr. Ranit Mishori, who is a PHR medical expert, explains, ‘Many survivors live with guilt, shame and self-blame. Low self-esteem is not uncommon and many remain silent because they just want the incident to go away.’ Another colleague, Dr. Homer Venters, who is PHR’s director of programs, adds, ‘As health care professionals, we at PHR know the truth of sexual abuse trauma and of how survivors struggle to heal after the abuse. Survivors have already accomplished a tremendous amount by simply surviving – many do not. Some are killed after being raped and others take their own lives, unable to bear the shame, fear, and isolation of their experiences.’
“A further concern is that this week’s proceedings sent the dangerous message that perpetrators – especially those in powerful positions – will be protected at all costs. While everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise, it is important that the Senate Judiciary Committee not embolden other perpetrators by rushing to dismiss the accounts of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, or by failing to properly investigate her allegations, and those of others. For this reason, we welcome the delay, agreed upon by Senators this afternoon, to allow the FBI to further investigate the allegations.
“It is imperative that, regardless of political views, party affiliations, or a desire to expedite a lengthy process, anyone of good conscience offers survivors the respect of listening to, understanding, and investigating their allegations of abuse, instead of shaming and discrediting them.
“Survivors everywhere need to be inspired to speak up and to seek justice instead of being further bullied into submission and silenced by a flawed system which seems rigged against them.
“As an organization and network of health providers committed to human rights, we at PHR call on our colleagues to join us in speaking out against these false and destructive narratives and to offer the truth about sexual violence trauma and to support meaningful access to justice for these crimes.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.