An Open Letter to Turning Point USA

By: Cassi Cox and Deborah Schiefer

Turning Point USA and Alex Clark,

On Friday, January 29, 2021, your Youtube show published with an interview in which you blasted a rape survivor discussed a controversy surrounding Jennifer Christie’s testimony. I am choosing not to discuss the fact that you formed an opinion and cruelly maligned an individual, feeding into slander and libel without reaching out for information directly from the source or making any efforts to fact check the gossip that was shared in this interview. That has already been covered here and here

No, today, I want to discuss a statement you made, in which you emphatically claimed that, “anyone who goes through a traumatic attack like that, whether that’s rape or anything, like you know. You know the day that happened.” I think it’s fair to note here that Abby stated she was going to give Jen the benefit of the doubt. “Like, trauma, maybe,” she said. She didn’t necessarily agree with you. Did you notice that? She didn’t agree with you that you can, in fact, get the date wrong because that’s how trauma works. I won’t give her many passes here, considering the fact that she has publicly lied about her mental health credentials and spent the entirety of this segment spreading misinformation about Jennifer,  but I will acknowledge the fact that she finally publicly recognized that your brain may not store memories in correct order with fine details in traumatic events because that’s how the brain is designed to work. 

But you, Alex, didn’t correct yourself. You didn’t address the fact that you emphatically stated that anyone would know these things. You didn’t fix your wrong. You both allowed that statement and the damage it does to be brushed off, dismissed, and swept under the rug like it’s no big deal. 

It is a big deal. 

In that sentence,You did not just invalidate Jennifer’s trauma. You did not just invalidate the trauma her husband experienced. You did not just invalidate the trauma that her children lived through. You invalidated all traumas lived by all people who do not remember the fine details of any traumatic event. 

I (Deborah) do not remember the date my Mom tackled me, sat across my chest and slammed my head into the floor until I saw stars. I remember it was the first time I fought back and hit her. I remember running away to a safe friend’s house because I knew the trouble I would be in when my Dad found out I hit my Mom back. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I don’t remember what month it was. I don’t remember the date. I don’t remember any of the dates she hit me in abusive rage.

I (Deborah) don’t remember the date when a grown man in my church complained that my body was too attractive and the ladies in my church stood by him, sexualizing a minor and told me I would not be allowed to return until my clothing was so baggy, my body was invisible. I was somewhere between 15 and 16 years old. I don’t remember the date they took me shopping and made me buy men’s cargo pants because they were the only thing loose enough to conceal the curves of my butt. I don’t remember the date they protected a predatory man instead of protecting the minor he lusted after.

I (Cassi) don’t remember the date I was sex trafficked. I remember that it was fall. It was cross country season and I should have been competing instead of lamenting my first breakup. Instead of focusing on upcoming competitions,I turned to an adult that I trusted to help me through the breakup. The medication that I thought would just help me fall asleep was something else and after a week…maybe more… of blurred bedsheets and bodies, I finally got out of there. Not only do I not remember the date, but I don’t even remember how long I was there. I don’t remember how many bodies were on top of me. Was it just one? Were there more? 

I (Deborah) don’t remember the date a young man I had never before seen showed up at the campground my friends and I were staying at, followed us down to the beach, grabbed my arm, and told me my “boyfriend wouldn’t care if we had a little fun,” as he tried to drag me back toward his tent. I remember begging and pleading. I remember him grabbing for my swimsuit. I remember another male in our group punching him to get him off me. I remember the panic attack that came next. I don’t remember the date. I’m not even sure of the month, though I think it may have been November.

I (Deborah) don’t remember either of the days I was sexually assaulted by one of my best friends. I remember red plaid. I remember the smell of Axe body spray. I think I remember it was night, but I’m honestly not positive. I’ve always attributed January 27th to one day, but that’s only because I needed a day to remember and grieve. I needed a day to hate because hating people felt too dangerous. But I don’t actually remember the day. I don’t remember the weather. And in reality, I know it could have taken place anytime between late-December and late-January. 

I (Cassi) don’t remember the first time I shut the bedroom door, closing my siblings inside while I stood outside, bearing the weight of violence upon my own body while trying to protect them. I also don’t remember the second, third or last. I can’t tell you how old I was when the scar on my knee was formed, from a grown man hurling a beer bottle at me. Domestic violence is an ugly thing, and even as a child and teenager I was standing between abusers and their targets. Not only do I not remember the date, I can’t even give you an age. Tween, maybe? I could tell you where we lived, but I couldn’t give you a number. ANY numbers.

See, Alex, your brain isn’t designed to latch onto logic and reasoning in a threatening situation. Your brain is designed for survival. The impulsive areas of your central nervous system (CNS) jump into overdrive and can override the rational areas that allow you to slow down and consider your best course of action. Think of it this way, if an angry mama bear is running at you, are you going to pause, memorize your surroundings, think through the steps necessary to take each path of escape available, and then act? Or are you going to run? If you pause, you’re going to die. You weren’t designed to pause. While some survivors of trauma can do that and do, not all will. Many won’t experience a pause or an ability to lock in every detail. In the case of PTSD, that pause is prolonged. You remain in a state of CNS activation which can disable your ability to track time, dates, and events in chronological order on a long-term basis. Time slows down. Stands still. Speeds by. Dates and numbers get jumbled while sensations are forever seared into your memory.

The truly sad part of this is that all of this information is readily available on all sorts of platforms for mental health, trauma, PTSD, and sexual assault. You don’t need access to journal articles, like those referenced here and cited below. You just need a willingness to educate yourself. 

I’m not going to blame you for being uneducated. In a country where 6% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives (which doesn’t even touch the number of people who experience a traumatic event but do not develop PTSD), we have far too many people who are not trauma-informed. 

You are, however, responsible for what you did in your lack of education. When you went to the extent of making such an emphatic statement based on opinion, not fact or evidence-based research, platforming someone with a history of abusive behavior, you became responsible for your lack of education. You not only didn’t do your research regarding this case in particular (Abby’s accusations are easily refuted and her lies are clearly outlined in the links provided)  but you did little to no research on the topic of trauma, PTSD and sexual assault. The way you handled this has the potential to do significant damage to the community in which I belong. 

Situations like this exist also as opportunities. This is yours. It’s an opportunity to educate yourself and to share with your followers what you’ve learned. It’s an opportunity to grab a hefty slice of humble pie, acknowledge where you were wrong, where you fell short, and the impact it could have on the community you were discussing. It’s a chance to apologize. As it stands, that video currently has 1.6 thousand views. The number 96 for you may only exist as an estimation of the 6% of that population who may be experiencing the very thing you invalidated, but to us… This is our lives. Sexual assault is not a partisan issue.

We’re two individuals with very real trauma histories who do not remember the dates. We are the people you invalidated with your naive and ignorant statement. We represent a community of others, like us, who remember our trauma in snapshots and smells – the way so many trauma survivors remember. While we’re both secure in our place of healing from our trauma, we both have fantastic therapists who help us walk our healing, and we’re both capable of validating our own experiences without your commentary, not all of us are there. 

Too many trauma survivors heard, “You’re a liar because you don’t remember.”

Alex, you can fix this. I hope you do. 

The world of people like us – We’re worth it. 

Sincerely,

Cassi and Deb

References and Quotes for Trauma and Memory

Ward, C. V. (2021). Trauma and Memory in the Prosecution of Sexual Assault. Law & Psychology Review, 45, 87–154.

Meanwhile, research in memory science suggested (1) that memory is much more susceptible to distortion and deterioration than had been previously supposed; 268 (2) that, in addition, memory is vulnerable to iatrogenic influences; 269 (3) that false memories can be created and then experienced by people as things which actually happened to them;270 and (4) that traumatic events, rather than being banished from consciousness, tend to be remembered nic)re clearly than non-traumatic ones.(pg 137)

Finally, recent research reaffirms the main findings of memory science over the past three decades: “The brain is not a videotape machine. All of our memories are reconstructed. All of our memories are incomplete in that sense. „305 Memory, including traumatic memory, can be changed by time, by subsequent events, and even by the process and circumstances of recall. (PG 145)

Nahleen, S., Nixon, R. D. V., & Takarangi, M. K. T. (2021). Memory consistency for sexual assault events. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 8(1), 52–64. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/…/cns0000195.supp (Supplemental)

“Critically, victims’ recall of traumatic events is often treated as completely accurate during reporting and treatment; our findings show that people make errors during recall. This should not be interpreted as stating reports of sexual assault are always inaccurate or fabricated, rather that some trauma reports may not always be a reliable indicator of all aspects of actual trauma exposure.”

Blix, I., Birkeland, M. S., & Thoresen, S. (2020). Vivid Memories of Distant Trauma: Examining the Characteristics of Trauma Memories and the Relationship with the Centrality of Event and Posttraumatic Stress 26 Years after Trauma. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 34(3), 678–684.

These results show that traumatic experiences can be experienced as vivid recollections decades later both for individuals who were exposed to a highly life‐threatening event and for individuals who experienced a traumatic loss. This is in line with Porter and Peace ([21]) and Hiskey et al. ([19]) who reported that even distant trauma memories can be experienced as intense and with vivid sensory components.

Brewin, C. R. (2016). Coherence, disorganization, and fragmentation in traumatic memory reconsidered: A response to Rubin et al (2016). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(7), 1011–1017. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1037/abn0000154

…at the global level, and when the individual is producing a general, well-rehearsed narrative that focuses on the outline of the trauma story, trauma and nontrauma memories are essentially similar in their levels of coherence. This is in line with predictions derived from Rubin’s (2011) account. An event for which the person has a coherent memory can nevertheless represent a turning point or mark a discontinuity in the life narrative (Berntsen et al., 2003; Horowitz, 1976; Janoff-Bulman, 1992). At the local level, however, amnesic gaps, other types of fragmentation, and evidence of disorganized thoughts will be present when a highly detailed narrative is elicited that includes a focus on the most frightening moments. Some of these effects may be produced by spontaneous reliving interrupting the expression of the trauma memory (Brewin, 2007). This is in line with the observations and proposals made by Ehlers et al. (2004).

Hardy, A., Young, K., & Holmes, E. (2009). Does trauma memory play a role in the experience of reporting sexual assault during police interviews? An exploratory study. Memory, 17 (8, 783–788. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/…/09658210903081835

As far as we are aware this is the first study to demonstrate that, contrary to the expectations of the criminal justice system, victims of sexual assault apparently experience genuine difficulty coherently recollecting what happened during trauma. Furthermore, the findings suggest that trauma memory-related processes (peri-traumatic dissociation and memory fragmentation) may play a role in attrition (Office for Criminal Justice Reform, [27]).

The findings indicate that considering trauma memory-related processes may be useful in improving how the criminal justice system deals with sexual assault, and could potentially help to address the high rate of attrition. Assessment of trauma memory-related psychological reactions may assist the interpretation of evidence provided by victims, particularly with regard to judgements of credibility, and should be integrated into decisions about whether cases should proceed to court.

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