‘Unprecedented’ number seek help from sexual assault hotline during Kavanaugh hearing

Christine Blasey Ford used three words Thursday to describe how it felt to share her story of sexual assault with the Senate — and with countless Americans watching at home.

“I am terrified,” said Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her when the two were in high school.

Kavanaugh has forcefully denied the accusation, before and during Thursday’s hearing.

But the experience didn’t just stir emotions in Ford and those in the room with her: Survivors of sexual assault across the United States shared stories on social media and beyond, with many reaching out for support. That led to a 147 percent spike in the number of calls the National Sexual Assault Hotline received Thursday compared to a usual weekday, TIME reports.

The group that runs the hotline — the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN — wrote on Twitter that its online chat tool was overwhelmed and was experiencing “unprecedented” wait times as a result.

“If you are able, we encourage you to call 800.656.HOPE (4673) or reach out via chat tomorrow,” the nonprofit wrote. “If you are in immediate danger, call 911.”

The surge in calls to the hotline didn’t come as a surprise to the organization.

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On Sept. 17, after allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh came to light, RAINN issued a statement predicting as much.

“History tells us that hearing allegations such as these often leads others to reach out for help,” the statement said. “Free, confidential support is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE and”

The group also encouraged the Senate to take Ford’s story seriously.

“Sexual assault is a crime, and every allegation should be thoroughly investigated,” the statement said. “The allegations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are very serious. The Senate Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to hear from both Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford before voting on his nomination.”

Doreen Arcus, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said in a statement that Ford’s accusations “have the potential to evoke memories of similar trauma for the one in five American women who have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes, as well as men who have been victimized.”

Arcus added that part of the reason Ford’s story could dredge up survivors’ traumatic memories is because of the “dismissive and accusatory responses” some had to Ford’s story.

Tuning out the hearing would have been challenging, given that it was carried live on cable news and lasted nearly all day on Thursday.

And it wasn’t a one-day event: There were 10 days between when the accusation became public — throwing Kavanaugh’s nomination into uncertainty — and Ford’s testimony Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“This is something that’s pretty hard to avoid ... It’s on the television. It’s on 24/7,” said John Jannes, associate executive director of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island, according to NBC.

But that doesn’t mean no good came of the hearing for survivors of sexual assault, or for those who may have known less about the issue before the hearings.

“This may stimulate conversations between parents and their adolescents … and that is a good thing,” Jannes said, according to NBC. “Adolescent girls who are empowered and adolescent boys who are mindful how they behave.”

An American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to RAINN statistics, but only 6 of every 1,000 people who commits a sexual assault serves prison time for it.

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