The brain and sexual assault: why sexual assault victims cannot necessarily remember


Adam Flowers, Staff Reporter

As Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is currently facing allegations of sexual assault from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, men across the United States are living in fear from being falsely accused of sexual assault.

  According to Joanne Belknap, a sociologist, criminologist and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, one commonly sighted figure states that five percent of rape allegations are false. Although, this figure comes from studies done on college students. An estimated 95 percent do not report their assaults to the police. Estimatedly, eight out of 10 percent of women are thought to report their assaults to the police, which means that roughly 90 percent of rapes go unreported.

  Belknap says that one of those rapes can be falsely reported, so the five percent figure applies to 10 percent of rapes that occur, which means that this puts the false allegation figure closely to 0.005 percent, or five percent of 10 percent.

  Because of these statistics, I do believe that men should not be afraid of being falsely accused. Granted, there have been situations where there are false allegations, but there are more cases of men being truthfully accused over falsely accused.

  A main reason why people believe that Dr. Ford’s allegations are false is because she cannot recount main details, such as when and where she was when the rape happened. According to an article on, during a traumatic event, like assault, the chemicals in your brain, such as norepinephrine and cortisol, cause the brain to focus on what it considers to be the most important and central details of the event. Although, smaller details, or peripheral details may not be stored in the hippocampus, which turns short-term memories into long-term memories.

  “When stress or fear or trauma kicks in, the brain shifts into a mode when the hippocampus goes into a super-encoding mode,” explains Jim Hopper, a teaching associate at Harvard Medical School, “which those central details really get burned in and the peripheral details are lost.”

  Because of how the brain works, sexual assault cases are difficult to arbitrate in a courtroom. Memories change and deteriorate over time, although this does not mean that we should question how credible the victim is.