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Is Believing Survivors a Partisan Issue?

by Kristi Taylor, Education Director

It has been just over eleven years since Tarana Burke created #MeToo and one year since #MeToo became a household hashtag and national movement. Millions of women and men have used the hashtag to share their experiences with sexual violence -many for the first time- and a great number of powerful individuals were publicly named for the abuse and harm they had perpetrated. As a result, politicians resigned, newscasters were removed from their seats, actors have disappeared from their series, comedians are no longer performing, chefs were ousted from their kitchens, and doctors were incarcerated. So, must we conclude that survivors have won? That after generations of activism, we have finally seen change? That we believe survivors when they bravely come forward?

Sadly, I have to say, that is a premature conclusion.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen that the work is far from over and the idea that we live in a “Post #MeToo World” is unsupported optimism. If you have somehow managed to avoid social media, the news, and public spaces for the past month, you may not know that during the Supreme Court confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh three women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, came forward and publically shared experiences of sexual assault and misconduct by the nominee while in high school & college. The resulting reaction was swift, angry, visceral, and most disturbing: partisan.

The public discourse was a far cry from the embracing solidarity that you would expect from a “Post #MeToo World” and instead became a debate and almost measuring stick of political loyalty. It was filled with hurt and rage from survivors who could feel the presumed progress slipping away as quickly as it seemed to come. It re-energized a culture of doubting victims and antiquated ideas about how survivors experience trauma; what a “real victim” would do in the aftermath of an assault, and the societal expectations of suffering in silence because your word will never be more powerful than that of your offender. As is all too common today, it also became a Red vs. Blue issue, which is what brings me to the title of this piece: Is Believing Survivors a Partisan Issue?

The reality is that perpetrators and victims of sexual violence come from all different backgrounds, beliefs, income levels, and yes, political affiliations. We also know that the harm of sexual violence is no different based on a person’s political beliefs, yet the validity of survivor voices seems to be measured by their voter registrations. I’ve seen this time and time again in news articles that list a survivor’s registered party alongside their name and in social media comment threads where survivors are questioned based on who they support in the midterms.

Why is this so dangerous you may ask? I mean everything seems to be Red vs. Blue these days! It’s simple. If we are going to stop the epidemic of sexual violence and hold offenders accountable, we need all well-intentioned people in the conversation and all survivors to be heard. We must listen to the experiences of people of all different backgrounds and belief systems. We must engage in the difficult, and very often frustrating, conversations about what different and diverse communities need to heal. We must use the same accountability measures for offenders, regardless of their politics or our personal beliefs about who they are in life. We must uphold laws and legislation, like the Violence Against Women’s Act, to provide funding and services for victims. In short, we must work together! I don’t mean to imply this is easy, simple, or means we can’t name the harm and hurt that has been done, but none of us can do this alone.

At the Advocacy Center, we start from a place of believing. We recognize the tremendous barriers to coming forward and sharing your experiences with us and we want ALL survivors to know that they can be heard here – free from judgment, shame, or need to justify any actions taken before, during, or following your assault. To speak with a trained advocate or volunteer, call our 24-hour hotline at 607-277-5000.