Why Sexual Assault Memories Stick

View Original Article on TheNewYorkTimes

As a psychiatrist I know something about how memory works. Neuroscience research tells us that memories formed under the influence of intense emotion — such as the feelings that accompany a sexual assault — are indelible in the way that memories of a routine day are not.

That’s why it’s credible that Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, has a vivid recollection of the alleged long-ago event.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she told The Washington Post in a recent interview. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Judge Kavanaugh has vigorously denied the charges, leading to a public debate about whether Dr. Blasey’s story is true. Her lawyers say she wants the F.B.I. to investigate before she agrees to testify before the Senate. If and when she does testify, you can bet that Republican senators will try to undermine her explosive claim on the basis that the memory of an event that occurred 36 years ago must be unreliable because it happened in the distant past. If she does not testify, some of her critics will undoubtedly argue that the time that’s passed is reason to doubt her recollection. Nothing could be further from the truth.