If an assailant attaches little significance to an assault

Memory is complicated.

From the dizzying stream of incoming perceptions, the brain stores, or “encodes,” the sights, sounds, sensations and emotions that it deems important or novel. The quality of preservation may depend not only on the intensity of emotion in the moment an event occurs but on the mechanics of how that event is recorded and retrieved — in some cases, decades later.

“Recollection is always a reconstruction, to some extent — it’s not a videotape that preserves every detail,” said Richard J. McNally, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of “Remembering Trauma.” “The details are often filled in later, or dismissed, and guessing may become part of the memory.”

Also, I have read elsewhere, for instance in the work of Elizabeth Loftus, that recalling a memory changes it. There’s no such thing as an intact unchanged memory.

For a trauma victim, this encoding combines mortal fear and heart-racing panic with crystalline fragments of detail: the make of the gun, the color of the attacker’s eyes. The emotion is so strong that the fragments can become untethered from time and place. They may persist in memory even as other relevant details—the exact date, the conversation just before the attack, who else was in the room — fall out of reach.

“In situations of high arousal, the brain is flooded with hormones that strengthen those things you’re paying attention to,” said Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “But other details are less accessible.”

Conversely, experts suggest, there are scenarios in which someone could have committed an assault and yet also have almost no memory of it. If an assailant attaches little significance to an assault—for instance, if he doesn’t consider it an assault — his brain may only weakly encode details of the encounter.

Ahhh yes, of course. That makes sense. It seems all too clear that Kavanaugh never did consider what he was doing an assault. It was just “horseplay”; it was just horndog teenage boys doing what horndog teenage boys do; it was just Rock Hudson trying to nudge Doris Day into the sack; it was just Ensign Pruitt in Mister Roberts hoping to get the nurses drunk so that he could rape them; it was just good clean fun. If he had thought of it as rape maybe he would have remembered it, but naturally it wasn’t in his interest to think of it as rape, was it. Rape is bad, rape is a violent crime, rape is a felony, rape is low class, rape is for losers, rape is not something a nice white boy from a nice elite Catholic prep school would do. No no, it was just Brett and Mark having boyish romps with some girl whose name they never caught. They went downstairs laughing and forgot all about it.

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