Kellyanne Conway uses her own assault story to attack other victims
Kellyanne Conway just came out publicly as a survivor of sexual assault. She deserves to be believed — but she doesn’t have the right to use her story as a weapon against other survivors.
For the first time, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has disclosed publicly that she is a survivor of sexual assault. Conway made the startling admission to host Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning.
“I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and rape,” Conway said during a discussion of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Then she paused, cleared her throat, and added: “I’m a victim of sexual assault.”
But then her admission took a sudden, strange, disturbingly victim-blaming turn.
“I don’t expect Judge Kavanaugh or Jake Tapper or Jeff Flake or anybody to be held responsible for that,” Conway added. ‘You have to be responsible for your own conduct.”
It wasn’t clear exactly which “conduct” Conway felt she and other survivors must hold themselves “responsible” for.
But it sure sounded like Conway was suggesting that victims are partly to blame for their own assaults — or perhaps that victims are a burden to others when they go public with their claims.
It was a jarring comment, but Conway still had a lot more to say.
After angrily digressing on Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and “partisan politics,” Conway elaborated a bit more on the idea of responsibility.
“I want those women who — who were sexually assaulted the other day who were confronting Jeff Flake — God bless them, but go blame the perpetrator,” Conway said. “That is who is responsible for a sexual assault, the people who commit them.”
This time, at least, Conway made clear that perpetrators and not victims are the ones “responsible” for sexual assault.
But she also made clear that she doesn’t think victims should be bothering anybody except their own rapists in order to seek justice or push for social change — especially not prominent men who could actually do something about it like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
This is a terrible, hurtful thing to say to survivors. Like every other citizen, victims of sexual assault have the right to express their grievances to their elected officials and demand change.
And no survivor is obligated to expose herself to the trauma of personally confronting her attacker in order to have her allegations taken seriously.
Conway made several other troubling, victim-blaming remarks, both before and after disclosing her own assault.
Earlier in the interview, Conway tried to cast doubt on the story of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, without making it seem like she was overtly disrespecting Ford.
Tapper asked Conway about Trump’s claims that Ford seemed like a “fine woman” and a “credible witness.”
“But credible means believable,” Tapper pointed out. “That’s the definition of credible. Does President Trump believe her?”
“Credible and compelling is — are words that many of us have used to describe her testimony,” Conway hedged. “But she also does — she also didn’t corroborate her testimony. The people that she said were at the party said that they weren’t, that this didn’t happen.”
As Tapper pointed out, that’s not accurate. Two of the alleged attendees said they had no memory of the party, but they didn’t deny that it happened.
Later, after Conway mentioned her own assault, Tapper interjected to express sympathy for what Conway went through.
He also tried to ask a difficult, but relevant, question: How does Conway, as a survivor, deal with working for Trump — who has been accused of sexually assaulting or harassing nearly two dozen women, and who has called all of those women liars?
Conway, who had just gotten through admonishing victims to “blame the perpetrator,” immediately shut down the idea of extending that logic to Trump.
“Don’t conflate that with this, and certainly don’t conflate it with what happened to me,” Conway replied harshly. “It would be a huge mistake, Jake.”
And toward the end of the interview, Conway went on another tangent about how — despite all evidence to the contrary — she thinks it’s much too easy for innocent men to randomly have their lives destroyed over false rape allegations, and that she worries about having to discuss this with her almost 14-year-old son.
“This is Judge Kavanaugh now. It could be anybody by next week,” Conway said. “Respectfully, it could be any man in any position now. What would be the defense?”
“But is that the conversation you’re having with your son?” Tapper countered. “Because the conversation I’m having with my son — .”
“No, that’s not the conversation I’m having with my son,” Conway admitted. She didn’t elaborate on what conversation she is having with her son about all of this.
As a survivor of sexual assault, Conway deserves to be believed. She doesn’t deserve to be second-guessed about her experience. She doesn’t deserve to be judged for whether, when, or to whom she chose to report her assault. And she doesn’t deserve to be judged for staying silent about it publicly until now.
But other survivors also don’t deserve to be treated like Conway, and her boss, are treating them.
The survivors who confronted Flake, because they believe a vote for Kavanaugh is an insult to survivors everywhere, don’t deserve to be told to sit down and shut up unless they’re confronting their own rapist.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t deserve to have Trump patronizingly call her “credible,” only to have his spokeswoman dismiss her story as unsubstantiated and unworthy of belief.
The many women who say Trump sexually assaulted them don’t deserve to have another survivor’s story weaponized against them.
And no survivor anywhere deserves to hear another word from anyone — especially a fellow survivor — that tries to justify putting men’s comfort and men’s careers ahead of women’s safety and women’s lives.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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