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AOC Opens Up About Capitol Riots & Prior Sexual Assault: ‘Trauma Compounds On Each Other’

Late Monday night, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to her Instagram Live to share her account of the events of the January 6 pro-Trump capitol riots that left five people dead. While the public is only beginning to get a clear picture of what it was like to be in the capitol that day — particularly for highly-visible, Trump-critical lawmakers that Federal prosecutors have confirmed some rioters were targeting — Ocasio-Cortez shared with more than 150,000 viewers the details she felt she was cleared to disclose and opened up about how she’s been processing the heavy trauma of fearing for her life that day.

Due to pushes from some lawmakers on the right to move on from the disturbing and deadly events of the day, Ocasio-Cortez shared how that day’s trauma fell in line with and compounded previous experiences she’s had as a survivor of sexual assault.

“These folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize,” she said. “These are the same tactics of abusers. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault. I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”

In her harrowing account of the riots, Ocasio-Cortez said she and a staffer had heard people banging on her door yelling “where is she?” and the panic-stricken moments of searching for a place to hide and accepting that she could very possibly die. She’d previously said, per the Washington Post that she didn’t feel safe going to the extraction point other lawmakers were going to on the day-of, as she wasn’t sure if some colleagues might disclose her locations to rioters. She said how she was “at a 10” when she finally got to the office of her colleague Rep. Katie Porter and began planning for ways for them to stay safe — because her body just kicked into fight or flight mode.
The thing about trauma (like sexual assault and near-death or life-threatening experiences) compounding is something mental health and trauma experts do understand and consider when providing trauma-informed care for patients with a history of violent and non-violent trauma. It’s understood that 7.8 percent of Americans (and 10.4 percent of women) will develop PTSD at some point in their lives and that some of the signs of this kind of trauma include:
  • Hypervigilance (feeling tense or on edge, trouble sleeping and difficulty controlling emotions
  • Avoidance (avoiding people, places and things that remind a person of the trauma and wanting to “zone out ” when confronted with these reminders; in some cases, PTSD sufferers have trouble recalling details of the trauma)
  • Reexperiencing (flashbacks and nightmares, reliving the fear evoked by the trauma when faced with reminders of the event)
  • Mood changes (depression and anxiety are common in people with PTSD)
She was visibly emotional recounting the play-by-play of getting from her office to safety on the day of the riots and the sense of discomfort and fear that followed her in the DC in the days leading up to them. And she also gave the reason she didn’t tweet out the common check-in messaging of “I’m safe and okay” (or something to that effect) that public figures use in emergency situations: She didn’t feel safe and she didn’t feel okay. 
She went on to call a real acknowledgement of the way the events of January 6 put so many lives at risk — and encouraged Americans to press on for accountability despite people who would dismiss it as political revenge.
“The accountability is not about revenge. It’s about creating safety. And we are not safe with people who hold positions of power who are willing to endanger the lives of others if they think it will score them a political point,” she said. “…This is at a point where it’s not about a difference of political opinion. This is about just basic humanity.”
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, harassment or violence, you can get help. To speak with someone who is trained to help with these situations, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at

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