In choosing not to pull its endorsement of state Sen. Joe Fain, the editorial board sides with a fundamentally broken system that tells women who do summon the extraordinary courage necessary to come forward and speak publicly about their sexual assaults that their voices, their experiences, and their identities simply don’t matter.
I and other supporters of Candace Faber were disappointed with The Seattle Times editorial board’s reaffirmation of its endorsement of state Sen. Joe Fain [“Our endorsement of Sen. Joe Fain stands,” Oct. 10, Opinion] in response to Candace publicly naming Fain as the man who raped her in 2007.
Survivors of sexual violence are often disbelieved, with the public instead focusing on an alleged perpetrator’s strengths or bright future, refusing to hear what the survivor is saying. This is a troubling dynamic that often mirrors the trauma of the initial assault. In this instance it signals a willful ignorance of Candace’s story — a story that we’ve heard from her many times over the course of the last few years and believe wholeheartedly.
As Americans, we must all learn how to truly hear these stories ourselves. We cannot wait for law enforcement or the courts to render a verdict of guilt or innocence. Not only because the (rightfully) high standard for sending someone to jail is an imperfect substitute for truth, but also because of the heavy burden the process places on the victim.
Nor can we fault survivors for not resorting to the legal system — a system of harsh justice where retribution is the only option. Many women, Candace included, think this system is unfair to women and too blunt a tool to perform the difficult and complex work of healing from trauma. There are other models for acknowledging the harm one person has done to another that fall outside the criminal justice system, and new models will probably be needed, too.
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As revelations like Candace’s become more common, I hope we can make space for them as well, for survivors who for one reason or another don’t want to pursue the narrow and elusive type of justice provided through the criminal justice system. But we can’t put the burden on the survivor in instances like this; this is work that we all need to do.
We must learn to acknowledge conflicting truths. That good people can do bad things. That men we know, trust and respect can commit sexual violence against women. Our current processes for acknowledging and processing these truths continue to be woefully insufficient.
We can start by listening. We can hear Candace’s story and put ourselves in her shoes. We can listen to organizations like the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center to understand why a woman would not come forward with her story immediately. We can follow Candace’s story and the evidence provided by her, her family, and her friends, and recognize the honest timeline of someone processing a pain that society is not prepared to help heal. We can listen to the proceedings surrounding Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and empathize with why Candace would be inspired to come forward in that time, in the way she did.
We can also refuse to fall for the tropes so regularly trotted out in response. We can refuse to let a man’s professional accomplishments or demeanor substitute for a defense, because we know that accomplished, honorable people are capable of such actions. And we can acknowledge that there are massive repercussions but few upsides for women who publicly name the men who have assaulted them, which explains why most experts put the rate of false rape allegations at around 5 percent.
The editorial board has provided Sen. Fain’s defense for him, not in the form of evidence contradicting or conflicting Candace’s account, but in the form of resume recitation. The board, then, in the process of doubling down on its endorsement, sides with a fundamentally broken system that tells women who do summon the courage necessary to come forward and speak publicly about their sexual assaults that their voices, their experiences, and their identities simply don’t matter.
It’s easy to say that we believe women — but as Barack Obama said so eloquently in “The Audacity of Hope,” “If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.”