Partisanship limits empathy for sexual assault survivors

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

The support the #MeToo movement receives is unfairly limited by partisanship. If we more thoughtfully considered the reality and complexities of the experiences of sexual assault survivors rather than using divisive rhetoric, we would be able to engage in a more productive conversation and find more communication between opposing sides.

Since the prosecution of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and popularization of the #MeToo movement in October 2017, YouGov’s poll on behalf of The Economist found a “small but clear shift against victims.” The poll demonstrated an increase in the percentage of people who think false accusations of sexual assault are a bigger problem than women feeling reluctant to report sexual assault. The divide on attitudes toward sexual assault victims occurs on partisan lines. The shift in opinion against the punishment and reporting of sexual harassment has been “slightly stronger” among women than men, but the discrepancy between Trump and Clinton voters is at least six times greater, The Economist reported.

The #MeToo movement, which falls under a larger umbrella of feminism, should not be correlated with a specific political party. In fact, feminism was not considered a Democratic perspective until the early 1970s. Politico reported that the support of women’s rights legislation from House Democrats rose above that of Republicans for the first time in 1972.

The Equal Rights Amendment catalyzed feminist and anti-feminist groups during the mid-to-late-’70s, according to Politico. It is from this exact period in time, the mid-1970s, that contemporary hyper-partisanship is rooted, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. The study further shows that party-based polarization has only increased in the past few decades.

The increasing polarization proves to be toxic to mobilizing widespread support for social issues. Nothing about finding evidence, seeking justice or believing in personal testimonies should be politicized, yet it has been.

For example, Justice Brett Kavanaugh called Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against him a “calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” The Washington Post reported.

How have we gotten to a place where every testimony is assumed to have an ulterior motive? Why isn’t justice a good enough reason for someone to speak up and report? People’s stories have intrinsic significance, because they are the story someone has boldly chosen to share.

A perspective that views sexual assault claims as merely vices for reclaiming power fails to understand the social and psychological challenges in reporting an incident. Psychology Today names shame, denial, fear of consequences and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness among reasons why victims of sexual assault do not report to the police.

Rape is the most under-reported crime with an estimated 63 percent of incidents left unreported, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

While all of these statistics exist, people seem to be more likely to hold fast to what their parties believe than what the facts prove to be true.

There is an appeal to discrediting victims. Victim-blaming is often rooted in a “just-world bias,” in which we prefer to believe that the victim did something to elicit the evil that has happened to them, rather than accept the idea that anyone is vulnerable to unfair treatment.

Sexual violence is something one in three women and one in six men will experience at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. These victims do not exclusively belong to one political party or another.

If we can come together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as people who support their peers, perhaps we will find that we have a lot in common. We need a shift in the way we talk about sexual assault to reflect its complex, intimate implications rather than watering down the issue with divisive rhetoric. Supporting sexual assault victims is not about a movement with a catchy slogan; it is about the values of empathy and justice.