AOC’s comments were bad
Sexual abuse is devastating. It cuts across and demolishes every single line of demarcation that we recognize in society, because it is one of the things that attack the foundations of society: Respect for the dignity of the individual person.
In my immigration practice, I have seen women and men who have been the victims of the sort of abuse that defies full explanation in the flat, sterile language of the law. I know of people who were assaulted as the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the tragic victims of random cruelty. I have seen women who, caught in the crossfire of warring governments and hostile forces, were raped in what later became recognized as international war crimes.
I say all this to frame, and to partially explain, my anger and disgust with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Earlier this week, the congresswoman from New York made herself the center of the story once again, by giving a social media interview in which she revealed that she’d once been the victim of sexual assault, to explain her horror and fear at the Capitol insurrection.
Normally, I would feel sympathy for her, even though I share none of her beliefs or values. My work and my past experiences have taught me that each story of tears and despair is particular to the person, and there is no blueprint for how a victim deals with assault. Some never speak of it, internalizing the shame. Some do not stop speaking of it, making it a permanent part of their public identity. Some fall into that middle space, acknowledging to themselves the horror and the need to move forward, but keeping the ordeal protected within some private circle of friends and support. Some, who have a public platform, use their voices to try and help others.
But some, and they are far more numerous than we are willing to recognize, have ulterior motives which become externalized at the first expression of their circumstances. I am not referring to the people who, after many years of silence, come out and reveal that they have been victims.
While that does have some legal significance, as with the decades-long revelations from the Bill Cosby accusers, it shouldn’t color the way that we assess the reality of the person’s pain. Long lapses in time are common when someone has been stripped of that most intimate part of themselves, their autonomy and sense of security, and we all deal with healing in different ways.
But Ocasio-Cortez chose this particular moment to reveal her personal story. We can all give her the benefit of the doubt and accept her words at face value. I know how powerful, and at the same time how ephemeral and unsubstantiated personal testimony can be. The default, until we are in a court of law, should be belief.
Here, we are not dealing with an identified predator. Here, we are dealing with a woman who makes a statement about her experience, and there is no likelihood of arrest, accusation and conviction in a court of law.
Here, we have someone trying to tie her own personal experience into a national tragedy, the assault on the Capitol last month. And that is the problem, a very big one.
The supporters of Ocasio-Cortez and the haters of all the people she hates, including Ted Cruz (who she basically accused of trying to murder her), will see nothing wrong with what the congresswoman is doing. They are of her tribe, and won’t break ranks.
But those who really do care about the victims of abuse should be up in arms, angered that this woman is trying to use her own assault as a hammer to come down on her political enemies. In tying her assault and the PTSD it triggered to being at the Capitol on the day of the riot, Ocasio-Cortez is trying to paint all of the people in the GOP as rapists. It’s as simple as that.
In this age of short attention spans and sound bites, a woman who is capable of accusing her fellow legislators of attempted murder is clearly not above lumping half of the population into the group “sexual assailant.”
It’s madness, and it makes the manipulation of Kamala Harris and crew at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings look almost innocent in comparison.
Anyone who has ever dealt with a victim of assault, or been one, or loved one, should condemn this for what it is: Political theater. Let’s hope they bring the curtain down on this dreadful show.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.