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Sexual assault ‘myths and misinformation’ could muddy Kavanaugh hearing, psychologist warns

President Trump’s tweet challenging Christine Blasey Ford’s claims because she didn’t report it when it happened set off alarms for survivors and advocates. In fact, most victims never report the sexual assault to law enforcement, says clinical psychologist Veronique Valliere. She joins Amna Nawaz to talks about the complexities of reporting sexual violence.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We continue our look now at the complexities of reporting sexual violence with Veronique Valliere, a clinical and forensic psychologist who works with the victims and perpetrators of sexual violence.

    Ms. Valliere, thanks for being with us.

    I want to back it up a little bit. We're having this conversation here and as a country around an allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford about something that happened 30-plus years ago. And that has given a lot of people, the president among them, reason to cast doubt about its veracity.

    What do we know statistically and from your work about when people choose or don't choose to come forward?

  • Veronique Valliere:

    Well, what we know is that most people never come forward when it comes to our definition of coming forward or disclosure, which means to law enforcement.

    Most victims never report to law enforcement or pursue any kind of legal solution or official reporting to the sexual assault. It's one of the most underreported crimes that we have.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You just heard Chessy Prout there share her story. She's 19 years old now. She was 14 at the time of her assault.

    Is there any correlation that we know of between the age of an alleged victim and whether or not they choose to share what happened to them with others or report it?

  • Veronique Valliere:

    I'm not — I'm not sure. There's probably some correlations with age, because, as we — when you're assaulted as a child, as you become an adult, you may choose to tell because you're more empowered, you have greater support system, you're not racked by the feelings of helplessness, and you cognitively and emotionally understand your assault more readily and thoroughly.

    But the relationship with the perpetrator and the status of the perpetrator have a lot more to do with choices of reporting than age. A child who may be sexually assaulted by a stranger may report more quickly than someone sexually assaulted by a family member or a loved one or someone trusted in their family or community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I want to be clear. Of course, what's unfolding between Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford is not a criminal proceeding in any way.

  • Veronique Valliere:

    Right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But if there is to be a hearing in which both of them are allowed to share their stories, to testify, to take questions, there's basically going to be two conflicting accounts, from what we know so far.

    From your experience, is that sort of a productive way to move things forward? What can be the conclusion at the end of a hearing like that?

  • Veronique Valliere:

    Well, in a positive way, if the hearers of the accounts understand sexual assault, understand victim behavior, and understand perpetrator behavior, without it being clouded and muddied by misinformation, like, if it was that bad, it would have been reported, or ideas that minimize or diffuse what sexual assault is, in that, when we carry a narrative of sexual assault that includes penetration and violation and weapons, that's the bar we — we define sexual assault with, if we understand that non-penetrative offenses can be frightening, attempts can be frightening, any violation of somebody's physical integrity can have profound and long-term effects.

    And perpetrators don't appear like a certain type. They don't seem a certain way. And the assumption that we know people around us just because we have had interactions is very false. And offenders tend to rely on that idea that we can know somebody or know what they're like in private or behind closed doors.

    So they build a public persona of niceness and politeness and integrity while they may be doing all kinds of things in their private life where other people don't know. So, if we allow information to guide our decisions based on that kind of really common sense, that people have private selves, then something can come out of the hearing.

    But if we judge people's — quote, unquote — "credibility" on misinformation, faulty expectations of victim response and behavior and a and a denial that nice-looking people with status or power could be bad people or perpetrators, then we're going to have reiteration of the myths and misinformation that has effectively facilitated sexual assault for decades and decades.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Veronique Valliere, thank you so much for your time.

  • Veronique Valliere:

    Thank you.

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