Land mines abound in the allegations against Ed Murray, with some worried about both feeding homophobic stereotypes and failing to support abuse victims.
Danni Askini wanted to be clear: She’s not taking sides.
“It’s too soon,” said the executive director of the Gender Justice League, a transgender advocacy group.
Only a day had passed since a lawsuit was filed and The Seattle Times aired allegations that Mayor Ed Murray had sexually abused as many as three men when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Murray strenuously rejected the accusations.
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Askini said Friday she was feeling emotional about the allegations, nonetheless. “The news has been unbelievably triggering for survivors of DV (domestic violence), sexual assault and childhood sexual assault,” she explained in a Facebook post. She herself is one, she said. And she is acutely aware of the way survivors’ experiences can be denied.
Yet as a transgender woman and passionate LGBTQ activist, she said she also knows how accusations like these can feed homophobic stereotypes.
“I see so many potential land mines here,” she wrote.
Adding to the explosive mix: Murray’s embodiment of LGBTQ rights, as a married gay man and longtime champion of same-sex marriage, and his aggressive pushback against the 46-year-old Kent man who filed the lawsuit.
“This accuser is going to have to explain himself,” Murray’s lawyer, Robert Sulkin, said Thursday.
“I will not back down now,” the mayor himself said Friday, calling the allegations “simply not true.”
Given Seattle’s embrace of both LGBTQ causes and support for abuse victims, some are speaking cautiously, if at all. “Gay City is not in a position to comment on the specifics of any particular case,” the group wrote in a statement, which also nodded to potential land mines.
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“This is not an opportunity to promote a political platform, to spread hate or to attack survivors of violence,” the statement said.
Connie Burk, executive director of the Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse, spoke broadly about the need to keep children safe.
Undoubtedly, the caution stems in part from the uncertainty over what occurred. Murray’s Kent accuser said in the civil lawsuit that he was raped and molested decades ago. He is speaking up only now, he said, because of soul-searching that followed his father’s recent death.
“When kids come forward sooner rather than later, it’s often a little bit easier to figure out what might have happened,” said Lucy Berliner, director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress. Forensics, for instance, can be gathered.
Years later, you’re often left with a “he said, she said,” or in this case a “he said, he said.”
“We don’t have any way of knowing for sure,” Berliner said. “So seldom is there independent evidence.”
And yet, she acknowledged, “It’s very hard for people to come forward. They are taking a huge chance. They don’t know whether they’ll be believed.”
Two of Murray’s accusers, in fact, came forward earlier — one in the 1980s, when he claims the abuse occurred. Charges were never filed and news stories never written.
The two early accusers, as well as the Kent man who is identified in the lawsuit by his initials, D.H., have substantial criminal records.
The mayor’s personal spokesman, Jeff Reading, has also accused the men of having political motivations. He noted that the latest allegation comes close to campaign filing time as Murray seeks re-election, and the earlier ones arose during the fight for marriage equality.
Yet to some people, the allegations — though unproven and still fresh — had an all-too-familiar ring. “It’s the pattern,” said Richard Sipe, a former priest who has written and testified extensively about sexual abuse in the Catholic church. “All the elements are there.”
The alleged victims — one the child of crack addicts, the other two living in a center for troubled youth where they said Murray worked — were vulnerable people, Sipe observed. And Murray is accused of developing a relationship with them by offering help.
In Catholic church abuse cases, Sipe said, priests often picked out kids who needed support or affection, sometimes moving in after a father died. “I’ll be your father now,” he said a priest might say.
Mary Dispenza, Northwest leader of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, wasn’t jumping to conclusions. The Bellevue 76-year-old, once an administrator in the Archdiocese of Seattle, remembered how Murray was a leader in supporting gays and lesbians in the church.
Still, the allegations stirred memories. Abused at 7, she said she didn’t talk about it until she was 52. “I know what holds us back,” she said, noting that shame is a powerful keeper of secrets.