Kavanaugh vote: How does sexual trauma affect memory? Experts weigh in

One day after Christine Blasey Ford appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, a full Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for Supreme Court was delayed for an FBI investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump.

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Some critics say that because Blasey Ford can't remember certain details, she could be mistaken about others.

However, experts say memories of trauma are different because they can make some details, like time, location or even the month an attack happened, fade away.

It takes just a moment to find someone who has experienced sexual trauma, too.

They are mostly strangers, drawn to this rally outside the federal building on the edge of downtown Seattle because of the extraordinary sight of Blasey Ford speaking before the Judiciary Committee, alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

"My abuse started when I was 4," said Judy Enriquez. "I finally came forth when I was in my 40s."

Enriquez spoke as the rally continued. For her, the highly charged, partisan environment was personal.

"When Sen. Grassley was making his introductory statement, I was watching her try to control her breathing," said Enriquez. "And I ended up absolutely in tears. It brought everything back to me, every single thing."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women and one in 71 men reports having experienced rape in her or his lifetime. More than 42 percent of female rape survivors say they were assaulted before they turned 18.

Joyce Garrity devoted her professional life to learning about sexual trauma and counseling those who have lived through it.

"According to what we know about traumatic memory, it's more likely that her recall is accurate than it is that Kavanaugh's is," said Garrity. "Because it's stored in the different part of the brain. All of the cortisol and the frontal cortex activity that occurs during a trauma makes it impossible for it to fade."

Still, she says survivors often remember some details and forget others. And she can forgive Blasey Ford for not remembering every detail, like the time, the house she was in and how she got home.

"Absolutely," Garrity said. "Those weren't relevant details. The details that mattered to her were what occurred and if she could get herself out of danger."

In a setting like this, those lapses can be used to discredit a survivor's story.

"Well, in my experience with clients, there are lots of things they don't remember," said Seattle discrimination attorney Kay Frank. "But they remember the things that they're there to talk about."

Frank specialized for 30 years in workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. She has had to prepare clients to testify, much as Blasey Ford did Thursday morning.

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"The best thing you can do to help somebody is to encourage them to tell the truth," she said. "To not to embellish. To say, 'I don't remember' if you don't remember. And to understand that it is going to be a difficult process. And it is possibly something they're not going to want to subject themselves to."

In fact, she says she tries to settle these cases to avoid her clients having to recount their experiences in a court of law.

But she says she feels it was necessary for Blasey Ford to tell her story so that it could be heard in her own words.