[guest post by Dana]
It’s been fascinating during this age of #MeToo, #BelieveSurvivors, and #TIMESUP to watch women’s advocacy groups caught between a rock and a hard spot with regard to the allegations of sexual assault made against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Virginia. I’ve been wondering where the women on the left side of the aisle disappeared to. Considering Democrats unarguably have a monopoly on women in today’s Congress, the silence is surprising. To be fair, freshman representative Jennifer Wexton of Virginia was first to break ranks with her Democratic sisters and voice her support for Vanessa Tyson after the release of her statement. However, she did not call for Fairfax’s resignation. Today Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who found Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation against Brett Kavanaugh disqualifying, also expressed support for Tyson but did not call for Fairfax to resign.
Gillibrand, who didn’t hesitate to condemn Kavanaugh when the allegation was made against him, also led the charge to oust the Sen. Al Franken, citing her zero-tolerance policy stand:
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the first Democratic senator to call for Franken’s resignation, lost campaign donors over the matter. But she has defended her decision on grounds that a zero-tolerance policy is both morally and politically right and that multiple women had come forward on Franken before she made her declaration.
And yet now with Fairfax, she has declined to call for his ousting. Apparently the definition of zero-tolerance is malleable.
Women’s advocacy groups overall have been silent about the Fairfax scandal. Just one group has called for Fairfax to resign as a result of Tyson’s public statement:
The National Organization for Women (NOW) calls on Justin Fairfax to remove himself from the line of succession by resigning his office.
Dr. Vanessa Tyson has made the brave decision to come forward and reveal in her own words what happened between her and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Her story is horrifying, compelling and clear as day – and we believe her.
We believe and support survivors. We always believe and support survivors.
This is more important than who is going to be the next governor of Virginia. This isn’t about politics. It’s about a woman who has experienced sexual assault – a serious crime – at the hands of a powerful man, who is now attacking her character. In order to tear down the systemic and toxic sexism in this country, we must speak out against it.
However premature they might be in assuming Fairfax is guilty, they are at least consistent in their claims to “always believe” alleged survivors.
This afternoon, the Women’s March weighed in but stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s resignation. The Women’s March believed that even before Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations, Kavanaugh was disqualified to sit on the Court. Her allegation only sealed the deal.
So why no calls for Fairfax to resign by those who were quick to call for other lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct to resign simply based on an allegation? Why, politics, of course.
Leading sexual assault advocates say their approach has been driven, in large part, by a desire to respect the wishes of the alleged survivor. But the hesitancy of women’s advocacy groups to jump into one of the central debates of the moment has begun to grate on some who wonder whether things would be different if Fairfax were not a Democrat and a rising star in the party.
“It’s messed up,” said Zerlina Maxwell, a progressive cable news pundit and former staffer on the Hillary Clinton campaign. “It is a hard thing to call for someone to resign. It is a hard thing when somebody who is beloved by the party and who is ideologically similar to you does a bad thing and faces consequences. But if we’re going to be the party that actually lives up to what we say and stand for, there have to be consequences.”
Obviously if Democrats want to be the party that actually lives up to what they say and stand for, then Gov. Northam and Atty. General Herringer, both of whom have wholly admitted to their bad behavior, would have already voluntarily exited stage left.
Prominent advocacy groups for women are citing that ultimate leftwing litmus test, abortion, as their reason for sitting this one out:
But more prominent institutions, like the Democratic National Committee, NARAL, EMILY’s List and the Women’s March, have either avoided the issue or engaged cautiously. A staffer at EMILY’s List said the organization has weighed in on some sexual assault allegations, like those against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, because the people involved were in a position to affect women’s abortion rights, which is their central policy concern. Otherwise, they try to keep their focus only on electing Democratic women.
Amanda Thayer, a representatives for NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy group, said Thursday that the group found the allegations “deeply disturbing” and were “watching it very closely.”
Unbelievable. So allegations of sexual assault by elected officials only matter to this powerful women’s group if it impacts their bottom line of abortion rights. What a way to value all women. Hey, sister, too bad you may have been sexually assaulted, but your allegation means nothing to us because the elected official you’ve accused can’t help further our cause. Oh, and maybe you better put some ice on that.
Contrast the reactions to the Fairfax allegation with those accused of similar behavior on the right side of the aisle:
The approach stands in contrast to how many of these groups have handed issues of sexual assault in politics in the past. NARAL and the Women’s March were highly critical of then-Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore when he was accused of molesting teenage girls. And they weighed in early and critically on the Kavanaugh allegations. Both groups helped promote an event on September 24 when women wore black, walked out of their offices at 1 pm and chanted “believe survivors” in support of Christine Blasey Ford and the #MeToo movement at large.
Activists insist that the hesitation to act similarly with regards to the Fairfax allegations is not due to political considerations. They note that Tyson had not consented to her name being made public before her story was published by a right wing news site, and that she had called for privacy when she eventually told her own story.
“I believe strongly that survivors should determine when, and how, and in what form they tell their story. The fact that her story appeared on a blog, not driven by her, with her picture on there, that totally goes against any approach that would be survivor centered,” said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO National Women’s Law Center. “The second thing is, I was especially moved by her letter, including her request that she be able to do what she wants to do in terms of engage in her work and lead a private life.”
This is interesting when one considers that Diane Feinstein claims to have respected Blasey Ford’s request for confidentiality, and yet she, or someone in her office leaked the “confidential” letter:
In July, Palo Alto University psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford wrote a letter to her senator, Dianne Feinstein, detailing a harrowing sexual-assault claim against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In her letter, Ford requested that Feinstein keep the information “confidential,” writing that she feared the ramifications of speaking out — but also that she felt “guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.” Feinstein respected her wishes, keeping both the letter and the accusation private.
Feinstein’s own office said after the breach of confidentiality:
Senator Feinstein was given information about Judge Kavanaugh through a third party. The Senator took these allegations seriously and believed they should be public. However, the woman in question made it clear she did not want this information to be public. It is critical in matters of sexual misconduct to protect the identity of the victim when they wish to remain anonymous, and the senator did so in this case.
Lastly, there is the issue of identity politics. Rather than caution being exercised because it’s just an allegation at this point, the silence you hear is because the accused’s skin color is black. And optics are everything:
One female progressive activist, who asked not to be named, said that the community was also cognizant of racial sensitivities involved in the story.
“There is an issue of how black men, particularly in the south, are treated around issues of assault and harassment,” the activist said. “They don’t want to turn this into an issue of feminists versus black men.”
The utter inconsistencies and abysmal reasoning behind the treatment of politicians accused of sexual misconduct only gives weight to the old adage that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. And in this case, that’s an unattractive look.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)