Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s attacks on his accusers’ histories sends a terrible message to sexual-abuse victims, writes columnist Jonathan Martin.
In the early 1990s, when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was working to spotlight hate crimes against LGBT people, he noted that reporting incidents put victims’ jobs and housing in jeopardy. “The system tends to blame the victim,” Murray said.
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Murray now is the system. Faced with the scandal of his career, he has done just what he condemned back then.
He has rebutted a trio of accusations that he paid underage boys for sex with attacks on the accusers’ backgrounds. He emphasized the “troubled” history of Delvonn Heckard, who has sued Murray, and portrayed him as a tool of a shadowy anti-gay conspiracy.
In an Op-Ed in The Stranger, Murray said of another accuser, Jeff Simpson, that his “criminal history proves he cannot be trusted” — and then listed it in detail. Murray even casually mentioned at a City Hall news conference that Simpson may have been molested as a child — a statement made to sow mistrust, not sympathy.
Murray has a right to say the men — emerging publicly three decades after the alleged sex crimes — are not telling the truth. But he risks crossing a line for his progressive base by turning to character assassination.
“(Heckard) and the other two have had horribly traumatic lives,” said Michael Maddux. “The ferocity at which they’re attacking them and not standing up for them is sickening.”
Maddux was once a Murray supporter. He is a gay-rights advocate, donated to Murray’s campaign and was heavily involved in the Murray-backed parks- and housing-levy campaigns. Maddux reserves judgment on the facts: “It does not seem in character from the Ed Murray we know now.”
But Maddux, who has worked as a paralegal on sexual-abuse cases, was aghast that Murray’s Op-Ed cited a lack of prosecution of the allegations as evidence they are false. That ignores the underreporting that Murray himself once cited, and the extremely low rate of prosecution of sex crimes.
“There is definitely room for us to find out the veracity of the allegations, but the response matters just as much as the scandal,” said Maddux.
You won’t hear much of that publicly from Murray backers. In fact, you don’t see anything but tight Seattle smiles and the progressive blue wall of silence. I called a dozen prominent endorsers of Murray — from Gov. Jay Inslee to former King County Executive Ron Sims — and either got no response or a status-quo statement.
The Seattle City Council, in the worst abdication of leadership, all but locked up behind a no-comment strategy.
That cone of silence misses Maddux’s point: the response matters.
One exception has been the one Seattle politician outside the cozy Democratic tent — Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. “While I cannot speak to the veracity of the claims, allegations of rape and abuse should always be taken seriously and investigated with care and diligence,” Sawant said in a statement after the allegations surfaced.
My view of the Murray scandal is shaped by my reporting on the clergy-abuse scandal in the early 2000s. Talking to dozens of (mostly) men who had kept secret their abuse, I was struck by the corrosive power of secrecy — divorces, rap sheets, substance abuse. And yet many were still reluctant to disclose the abuse even as the clergy scandal became a daily newspaper headline.
“People who are abused often take a long time to come forward because of the shame. And to see all this, it would cause them to go back in their shell and revert, because it’s scary,” said Mary Dispenza, who waited until she was in her 50s to disclose being abused by a Catholic priest.
Coming forward means Heckard, Simpson and a third accuser, Lloyd Anderson, are open to scrutiny of their extensive criminal records and self-professed drug addiction and prostitution histories. As Murray once said, the system tends to disbelieve them.
I don’t know if the three men are lying and Murray is innocent of all their accusations. But I do believe that Murray’s attacks on his accusers’ backgrounds send a terrible message to victims of child sexual abuse, one that the Seattle establishment tacitly condones with its blue wall of silence.