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Alexa Fahlman

Speaking The Unspeakable

At the centre of psychological trauma, there is, as Judith Herman states, ‘the conflict between the will to deny horrible events [the unspeakable] and the will to proclaim them aloud.’[1] On September 27, 2018, Christine Blasey Ford spoke of the unspeakable. Her testimony of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh embodied this psychological conflict described by Herman. Caught between her desire to repress the traumatic event, ‘I tried not to think about it or discuss it’, and her ‘civic duty’ to proclaim it aloud-  ‘I felt couldn’t not do it’, Ford’s urge to speak was greater and overarching.[2]

When the knowledge of a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, enters into public awareness, those who bear witness are caught between a conflict of their own- whether to side with the victim or perpetrator. [3] Ford was already disadvantaged by the stigma attached to her as ‘victim’; as a result, the perpetrator and his supporters used this stigma to further undermine her credibility. [4] The manipulation of Ford’s symptoms of psychological distress, in its most appalling form, is exemplified in Donald Trump’s public mockery of Ford:

How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? ‘I don’t know.’ What neighbourhood was it? ‘I don’t know.’ Where’s the house? ‘I don’t know.’ Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? ‘I don't know, but I had one beer! That's the only thing I remember’[5]

Whilst it is evident Trump’s public humiliation of Ford is rooted in a facile understanding of memory and trauma, it is also a calculated act of manipulation. Rendering Ford as invisible was a procedural step in confirming Brett Kavanaugh’s seat, as Trump gloats, ‘had I not made that speech, we would not have won’.[6] Trump was unable to silence Ford and to this end, he encouraged the public not to listen, and to do so, he attacked the credibility of Ford. Within the field of psychology it is understood that when the unspeakable is articulated, it is told through an emotional, contradictory, and fragmented discourse.[7] However, this is not widely understood by the public, therefore, through his presidential prerogative, Trump was able to fabricate these symptoms as characterizations of inaccuracy and untrustworthiness. In turn, Ford’s testimony was framed as belonging to someone ‘who didn’t seem to know anything’, rather than someone who had experienced psychological trauma.[8] To his critics, Trump has announced, it ‘doesn’t matter’ because ‘we won’, however what does matter is Ford’s active refusal to be silenced.[9] As history tends to repeat itself, there will always be those who speak of the unspeakable, whether they choose to remain anonymous, or like Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, stand to speak in the centre of politics. As a consequence, there will also be those who try to silence them. Despite these attempts, it is clear the moral fortitude to speak is stronger, and to honour those who do, it is our utmost responsibility to uphold a supportive social environment in which survivors can safely speak, be believed, and face the unspeakable.

Works Cited:

[1] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery (London: Pandora,2001), p. 1.

[2] CBC News, Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey FordFULL testimony, online video recording, Youtube, 27 September 2018, <> [accessed 28September 2018].

[3] Herman, p. 7.

[4] Ibid.

[5] CNN, Trump mocks Christine Blasey Ford’stestimony, online video recording, Youtube, 2 October 2018, <> [accessed 3 October 2018].

[6] 60 Minutes, Trump on his treatment of Christine BlaseyFord at rally: “It doesn’t matter. We won., online recording, Youtube, 14 October 2018,<>[accessed 20 October 2018].

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.