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The Senate Must Set an Example of How to Treat Survivors


If Christine Blasey Ford is pilloried, it will send a disturbing message that is all too familiar to trans survivors of assault, writes Harper Jean Tobin.

One of the most commonly shared experiences of transgender people is the fear of having our own experiences invalidated by people more powerful than ourselves. So many transgender people know what it is to be told our own experience is false or that the troubles we face are of our own making. We know what it means to struggle to summon the courage to come forward -- and how often it results in being put on trial ourselves.

This is particularly true for the half of all transgender adults who are survivors of sexual violence. That is the troubling finding of a national survey we conducted of nearly 28,000 transgender Americans -- the largest study of its kind to date.

One of our respondents reported their sexual assault on campus to university officials, only to have their experience denied. "My university didn't do anything to help me," they reported. "Instead, [it] threatened to punish me. I lived in terror the entire time I was on campus."

That sense of disbelief can often extend to law enforcement. As one respondent noted, she was met with pushback after arriving at the emergency room to report a rape. "There I met an officer who told me I deserved it for attempting to be a woman and should have died," she said. "He also refused to take a report."

We, like people across the country, remain in awe of the bravery and sacrifice of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward this week with deeply disturbing allegations concerning Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Like so many survivors, she was understandably hesitant to come forward and publicly challenge a powerful man. Indeed, every survivor's worst fears came true, as Dr. Blasey Ford is reportedly facing harassment, death threats, amd cyberattacks, and is being forced to leave her home, where she no longer feels safe.

Dr. Blasey Ford and the American people deserve nothing less than a fair, comprehensive, and nonpartisan investigation of her claims. She has reasonably requested that President Trump allow the FBI to reopen its background check of Judge Kavanaugh before she provides testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She is willing to give her testimony to the FBI -- knowing it's a felony to lie to the bureau. As committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley and the White House refuse to honor this sensible request, every survivor is watching their mistreatment of Dr. Blasey Ford's claims.

We all have so much at stake in what happens in this highest-profile of cases. If a professor who comes forward at =remendous personal cost with a grave and credible story is allowed to be pilloried and discarded in order to steamroll through a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, what does that mean for the rest of us? What does that mean for every other survivor? For the survivor who isn't themselves a privileged professional? For the survivor who also has to overcome the barriers of poverty, racism, and transphobia to be believed?

Instead of addressing those inequities, the Trump administration is ready to make them far worse. According to a leaked draft of a proposal from the Education Department, the Trump administration is set to encourage schools and universities to do just that -- empowering abusers to, among other things, cross-examine the very people they abused. It's a policy that, if enacted, will force people of color, transgender people, and people with disabilities to face even more doubt when sharing their story, silencing some and delaying the reports of many more.

Senate leaders initially planned to follow the administration's lead and completely ignore the serious and credible allegations made by Dr. Blasey Ford. Now they're pressing for a hearing with just two witnesses, followed by a rushed vote with no further investigation. Some senators are already discarding Dr. Blasey Ford's allegations and implying she is a liar or that it doesn't even matter if Kavanaugh tried to rape someone. This is beyond unacceptable, and an independent, nonpartisan investigation is needed to correct the damage already done.

This cannot be an opportunity to assassinate Dr. Blasey Ford's character or trivialize sexual assault -- as was done in the case of Anita Hill more than 25 years ago. Doing so would be a grave injustice and set a dangerous example for all survivors and the authority figures trusted with responding to their stories. With even a single degrading comment, senators could convince a survivor watching at home to never seek justice in the first place.

There are no do-overs for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, and no margin for error. There is absolutely no decent or defensible reason not to slow down and do this right. Senators must get it right, in the name of both the integrity of our courts, and the dignity of every survivor -- of every gender -- whose fate and whose options will be even worse if we don't.

HARPER JEAN TOBIN is the policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

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Harper Jean Tobin