James Comey's testimony at the Senate Intelligence Committee is referenced throughout, the full transcript is available here.
I didn't want to watch the Senate Intelligence Committee testimony of Comey but I did and it was eery how connected to Comey I felt. There was an incredible feeling of familiarity as I watched him testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and listened to the questions posed to him. My body said ahh yes, I recognize that old feeling. My brain took a minute to recognize what was happening. Before I go too far, let me be clear on a few things: one, yes I am a rape survivor. Two, I have also worked and been trained by an amazing organization called Peace Over Violence as a sexual assault advocate; so I know a bit about this issue although I'm not an expert. Three, Comey's experience is, of course, no where near comparable to the experience a rape survivor goes through. But what does it mean when the former Director of the FBI is testifying before a Senate Committee about his relationship with the President of the United States and I, a rape survivor, identify with his experience?
I finished watching Comey's testimony and felt confused: angry at the questions asked of him but also connected to him, but I didn't yet understand why I felt that way. So in my confusion I went to one of the secret Facebook Groups I'm in that popped up after the November election and is for sexual assault survivors. (In case you didn't know this, that's what happened after the election: secret groups for survivors popped up because we needed a safe space to help each other through the trauma of the election). Thankfully, in my group someone had hit the nail on the head. The Comey-Trump relationship reminded me of the predator-prey relationship in sexual assault. The questions the Senate Committee asked Comey were fishing for a way to blame Comey, just like society fishes for a way to blame sexual assault victims: Why didn't you do more? Why didn't you say this? Comey even acted at times like an abuse victim. That's why watching Comey's testimony felt so eerily familiar.
Trump courts Comey the way predators court and groom their targets.
Testimony of Mark Warner (speaking to Comey): "Let me move to the January 27th dinner, where you said 'The president began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI director.'
He also indicated that 'lots of people' again your words, 'Wanted the job.' You go on to say the dinner itself was 'Seemingly an effort to' to quote have you ask him for your job and create some 'patronage' relationship. The president seems from my reading of your memo to be holding your job or your possibility of continuing your job over your head in a fairly direct way."
By inserting the idea of job insecurity into Comey's head Trump is trying to turn Comey into a vulnerable target. This is classic predator behavior. Predators are smart, their victims are rarely random. They look for vulnerable targets or try to put their target in a vulnerable position. Comey testified that in their February 14th meeting Trump asked everyone in the room to leave but Comey. Again, Trump is trying to make Comey vulnerable by isolating him and making him uncomfortable. Every predator knows an isolated target is best. If Comey was more concerned about job security than the integrity of his investigation, Trump would have had him. Fortunately, Comey's sense of integrity outweighed his concern for his job . Thus, ultimately Trump could not manipulate him into shutting down the the Russia investigation.
Trump tries to establish a special relationship with Comey just as predators groom their victims.
Testimony of McCain (speaking to Comey): "He said quote because I've been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know."
Testimony of Comey (speaking to Warner): "and what the president whispered in my ear was 'I really look forward to working with you.'"
Testimony of Jack Reed (speaking to Comey): "And again, also, you've testified that the President asked you repeatedly to be loyal to him."
Grooming is "the predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position that makes them more isolated, dependent, likely to trust, and more vulnerable to abusive behavior." Grooming is essentially trying to establish a close and trusted relationship with another individual that feels special. Then inappropriate actions or requests in the relationship are more easily overlooked because of the special nature of the relationship. It often starts with flattery to endear the target to the predator. Comey testified that Trump repeatedly told him he was doing a great job. Trump tries to flatter Comey then Trump moves to establish their special relationship by insisting upon loyalty. Trump had threatened Comey's job security, which would have made Comey more likely to pledge loyalty if not for Comey's high sense of integrity. The pledge of loyalty would have established that special relationship/"that thing", as Comey testified, which predators try to create.
Comey even begins acting similar to a sexual assault or domestic violence survivor.
Comey's Testimony: "I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document."
Testimony of Collins (speaking to Comey): "Your testimony was that you went to Attorney General Sessions and said, don't ever leave me alone with him again."
When trying to help a domestic violence victim the tricky aspect is that often the violence is not witnessed. It's one word against another. As we can see Comey's encounters with Trump so unnerve him that he doesn't want to be in a room alone with him anymore. As an advocate we were taught to encourage victims to document these encounters and all forms of abuse. The goal is to strengthen the victim's case through documentation. So you encourage victims to see if someone can back up their claim that they were at x location, record the time and date of the incident, and just record anything that can strengthen their case. When it's one word against another's anything that backs up your side of the story strengthens your case. This is what Comey was doing. His gut told him Trump couldn't be trusted. He knew it was his word against Trump's so he did what he could to bolster his word by documenting their encounters. He also discussed the encounters with a select bunch of colleagues out of concern for the situation but to also bolster his story and get witnesses to back him up.
Like most abuse victims Comey responded by freezing. That behavior prompted Feinstein and Rubio to ask classic victim blaming questions.
Testimony of Feinstein (speaking to Comey): "Now, here's the question, you're big. You're strong. I know the oval office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn't you stop and say, Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you."
Testimony of Rubio (speaking to Comey): "At the time, did you say something to the president about, that is not an appropriate request, or did you tell the white house counsel, it's not an appropriate request? Someone needs to tell the president he can't do these things."
Comey responds to Rubio: "I didn't, no."
Rubio responds: "Why?"
Comey responds: "I don't know. I think — as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such that it was — I was a bit stunned and didn't have the presence of mind. I don't know."
Comey froze. Freezing is a common response when we are shocked, stunned, and in an unexpected and unfamiliar situation. You freeze when your senses are temporarily overwhelmed and you just don't know what to do. Trump asked Comey to drop the Russia investigation which so shocked Comey, an FBI law and order man, that he froze. Comey's senses were overwhelmed just like senses are overwhelmed when being physically or sexually assaulted. Rape or domestic violence is of course a much bigger and severe shock. However, Comey's shock is an example of the same mental and emotional overwhelm but on a much less severe scale. Comey will not walk away from the Trump encounter with the damages that a rape victim has, but the exchange is an example of the same abusive predator-pray relationship.
The most common victim blaming refrain is "Why didn't you fight back?" Or "Why didn't you fight back harder?" That is exactly what Feinstein and Rubio were asking Comey. They asked specific questions questioning Comey's emotional and psychological response to Trump. Feinstein even suggests that because Comey is big and physically strong he should be able to defend and stand up for himself when a line has been crossed with him. Effectively, Feinstein is insulting and challenging Comey's physical and mental strength. Every abuse survivor is familiar with these victim blaming questions. We know victims often freeze, yet we still victim blame. Why do we blame victims and why do victims often blame themselves? Psychology Today says, "Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people." If we can maintain this view that the world is a safe and moral place, it gives us a sense of control and security over our own life. So it is human tendency to reject victims. That's why you see people creating terms like "legitimate rape" because we want to deny those victims that challenge our notion of a moral and controllable world. At the same time we desperately want to believe that we would act assertively in such a situation, because that assertiveness would protect us.
So why did Feinstein and Rubio victim blame Comey? Victim blaming Comey is not the same as victim blaming an abuse survivor, so this is tricky. My guess is because they wanted to put order into an upsetting situation. Instead of accepting the idea that the President of the United States might actually be a "bad guy" who would abuse his power, they would rather find an excuse as to why the situation unfolded the way it did. It puts a little sense of control back into the situation and is easier to accept than the idea that Trump might actually just be a bad guy. Unfortunately, as I and all abuse survivors know, bad guys really do exist. Victim blaming Comey might also help Feinstein and Rubio hold onto their fantasy that they would act more assertively and be in control. They know they would be assertive, so how could someone so physically strong not be? The idea that you might not actually be able to control your reaction is not an idea Rubio and Feinstein seem eager to accept.
What ultimately seems most important here though is the realization that this predator-prey relationship developed between two powerful men. If it can happen between the President and the FBI Director, it can happen to anyone and it can be sexual in nature or not. Abuse is ultimately about power. That's why we say rape is not about sex. Rape is just a form of abusing and exerting power. To be clear on one thing, yes I do not like Donald Trump. But this is not about politics or Trump. It is about issues I care deeply about: abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, unhealthy relationships, boundaries and the like. I hope any who are unfamiliar with these issues now have a better understanding how abusive relationships can develop and that they can develop anywhere. Finally, I know I don't speak for all survivors but I hope I give a voice to some.