Since the scandal broke in April, staffers at Shepherd’s Counseling — which provides specialized therapy for adult victims of sexual molestation — have been hearing from clients about how the Murray scandal is affecting their daily lives.
For victims of sexual abuse, the bright days of this Seattle summer have been spent revisiting some very dark places.
Four men have accused Seattle Mayor Ed Murray of sexually abusing them 30 years ago — a scandal that worsened July 27, when one of the men filed a claim with the city.
In it, Delvonn Heckard says Murray has used his “position of power” to deny his accusation that Murray paid him for sex when he was a 15-year-old drug addict, and to falsely accuse him of participating in an “anti-gay right wing conspiracy.”
Two other men have said Murray paid them for sex when they were teenagers. And a fourth man, Jeff Simpson, accused Murray of sexually abusing him when he was Murray’s foster son.
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Murray has denied the allegations, and said he will not resign from office.
“My administration and I continue to govern the city effectively,” he stated, “and I am proud that we continue to deliver results that will improve the lives of the people of Seattle.”
Well, not all of the people.
Since the scandal broke in April, staffers at Shepherd’s Counseling — which provides specialized therapy for adult victims of sexual molestation — have been hearing from clients about how the Murray scandal — true or not — is affecting their daily lives.
“It is triggering, and it’s upsetting,” Executive Director Janice Palm said the other day. “This brings back their own abuse.”
Some of Shepherd’s clients can’t bear to read or hear anything about the accusations against Murray.
“They get a little inkling of the story and they turn off everything so they don’t have to hear about it,” Palm said. “They know what it triggers in them.”
But Palm has been following the case closely, and has seen elements of the scandal before:
People who wait for years to take formal action against their alleged abusers, as Murray’s have. People who wait for a life event like a parent’s death to spare them the pain of the accusations. People who recover from the fog of addiction, see the events of their past anew, and seek justice.
“Some wait until they are well into adulthood, 40 to 45 years old, to get help and tell anyone what happened,” Palm said. “Sometimes our intake coordinator is the first person they have ever told.”
Heckard, for example, came forward with his allegations at 46, after a year of sobriety and the death of his father.
The dismissal of the accusations is also familiar, Palm said, as are Murray’s denials. He has questioned his accusers’ reliability, citing their criminal backgrounds and drug use, and suggested they were part of an “anti-gay conspiracy.”
“This is a replay of that on the big screen,” Palm said. “There are people coming forward … and Ed Murray has said, steadfastly, ‘I didn’t do it.’ But things keep coming out.”
On July 17, after newly released records showed that an Oregon child-welfare investigator concluded in 1984 that Murray had sexually abused his foster son, City Councilmember M. Lorena González asked Murray to consider stepping down.
In a statement, she spoke of the “grave harm caused by proceeding with a status-quo mentality.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, four candidates for mayor and Seattle’s LGBT Commission have also asked Murray to resign. (“Claiming homophobic intent to shield yourself from accountability and erase the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse is silencing, manipulative, and morally repugnant,” the commission said in a statement.).
Council President Bruce Harrell urged caution, and suggested the council determine “what the legal course is, and that we talk among ourselves.”
They are likely having the same, inconclusive and uncomfortable conversations we all are — and being grateful that there is a mayoral race to distract us, and turn our minds to the future.
Palm is busy tending to clients, and isn’t sure what should be done at City Hall.
“I’m not that politically savvy,” Palm said, “but I can say that it would be an amazing gift to all survivors of sexual abuse if Ed Murray said, ‘This is distracting; this is upsetting; I am going to take myself out of the limelight so people won’t continue to be triggered.’ ”
We both agreed that we will never know what happened all those years ago, and who is telling the truth.
“But this is now and people are being hurt,” Palm said. “And Ed Murray knows this. He knows it is hurting people to have this be such a distraction. It would be the utmost honorable thing to do, to say, ‘For the sake of those people who have been hurt by sexual abuse, and so we can get back to business as usual, I am stepping down.’ ”
For some constituents, that may be the best public service Murray could perform.