The headline in Politico stated: “Franken scandal haunts Gillibrand’s 2020 chances.” The more I read, the more the nuanced irony set in—a female politician blamed for a party’s struggles. Because she spoke out against a male colleague credibly accused of sexual harassment by a multitude of women. Because she spoke.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand lost the support of prominent party donors, and perhaps more shockingly, security in her career and public image as a result of acting on what she called “deeply held values” that place accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence over party loyalty. One anonymous donor stated, “I think that what she did for women in politics was dreadful.” Others called her “shrewd” and accused her of “eating her own.”
As both a young liberal woman and survivor of sexual assault, it has become unfortunately clear to me that the party I most often choose to support silences survivors with the same cold indifference as the party of Roy Moore, Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh.
I’m not implying that the GOP’s actions surrounding sexual assault survivors have been excusable. Overall, Republicans have used more crass, misleading, and hurtful language against victims since #MeToo and #TimesUp thrust the issue into the spotlight—President Trump’s mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford at a political rally comes to mind. And Democrats do tend to support survivor-focused legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act at higher rates.
But the presence of integrity becomes clear when the truth threatens the status quo, as the truths of #TimesUp so often do. Sexual violence survivors, particularly those whose identities coincide with other vulnerable populations, live as some of the most marginalized individuals in our society. Whenever a threat arises to power, prestige, or public image, institutions disproportionately act in their own best interest. They re-victimize survivors and enable future abuse in the process. This includes law enforcement, universities, and corporations. And, yes, this includes the Democratic Party.
More stark examples exist than the fierce blowback against Senator Gillibrand. Bernie Sanders recently admitted to mishandled reports of sexual harassment throughout his 2016 campaign, essentially saying he was too busy to notice and deal with the issue at the time. And Bill Clinton’s multiple accusers of sexual assault, including rape, never garnered enough attention to make the same waves in his career as a consensual extramarital relationship (not to minimize the deeply problematic aspects of this relationship in itself due to age and power dynamics, which former White House intern Monica Lewinsky explored in a recent Vanity Fair essay).
PVictims of sexual violence perpetrated by powerful Democrats do not deserve the constant gaslighting of a party that moves slowly to acknowledge its own role in the need for #MeToo. Serving as an ally in the fight against all forms of power-based violence requires acknowledging and making reparations for harm regardless of the circumstances. To do so, liberal-identifying individuals must think critically about the character of our own leaders and elect those that handle difficult truths not with denial, but with healing and grace.