On Friday, May 1, 2020, presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on Morning Joe to publicly address Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against him. Earlier this week, ‘me too.’ founder Tarana Burke took to Twitter to share her sentiments. The series of tweets that follow have been condensed in the form of an official statement from the organization.
I took a moment away from work and movement-related issues to be present where I was needed as my family was directly affected by COVID. But, I know many of you are wondering about my “take” on the Tara Reade story. My stance has never wavered: survivors have a right to speak their truth and to be given the space to heal.
This story hits at the heart of one of the most important elections of our lifetime. There are no perfect survivors. And no one, especially a presidential candidate, is beyond reproach. So where does that leave us?
In a just world, we’d have a transformative approach to dealing with claims of sexual violence where a survivor’s story is given fair consideration and they are made whole by a process that supports both accountability and healing. This is doubly important when outsized power dynamics are involved. But, we don’t have that right now. What we have now is a zero-sum game where absolutely no one wins, in part because most people weighing in at the moment don’t actually care about transforming a culture of sexual violence.
On the one hand, Tara Reade has been afforded the opportunity to speak her truth through mainstream media reporting on her claims and ongoing investigative journalism. She should have been able to come forward in a process where she would be treated fairly, within a trusted system. Instead, like other public survivors before her, she had to rely on journalists in order to be heard – precisely because the systems for survivors are not in place.
On the other hand, the defense of Joe Biden shouldn’t rest on whether or not he’s a “good guy” or “our only hope.” Instead, he could demonstrate what it looks like to be both accountable and electable. That would mean, at minimum, acknowledging that his demonstrated learning curve around boundaries with women, at the very least, left him open to the plausibility of these claims. Those defending Joe Biden by saying that he’s a “good guy” and therefore could never harm anyone are instead harming survivors and this movement. Relying on him being “the only hope” against Trump wouldn’t excuse his behavior either. Joe Biden needs to speak for himself. Not through surrogates or statements. If he wants to be electable, he has to be accountable.
No matter what you believe, we are allowed to expect more of the person running for President.
This is where we are. We don’t have a guidebook for this, in part because it would take a willingness from ALL of us to write it. Survivors deserve more than being used as a political football by disinterested parties.
I feel a deep sense of sadness about the false choice being presented to survivors navigating this moment. This should not be our burden to bear. And yet we will be forced to carry it far beyond November. Remember that the next time you’d like to pit us against each other. A culture of acknowledging harm can’t exist if we continue to view sexual violence as a catastrophic outlier rather than an embedded toxic element of our culture.