Dear Progressive Movement, We Have a Problem

On August 19th, Holly Fussell came forward with her story about reporting sexual harassment to former FL-09 congressional candidate, Susannah Randolph. After reporting the harassment, Fussell was raped by the same man she had reported for harassment.

I believe survivors, but this part of her story isn’t true.

Coming forward in this way is not the right way to get justice.

How do you know she wasn’t paid by the opponent?

Why do you think this story isn’t getting local pickup? It’s filled with holes.

These are things that we have heard from some members, staffers, and leaders — both men and women — in the progressive movement after hearing Fussell’s accounts.

These are deeply problematic statements. Here’s why:

Survivors often experience “secondary victimization,” in which they face cultural, social, and economic backlash for reporting sexual harassment or assault. These types of retaliation manifest in many ways for survivors, such as being fired from work or silenced by a supervisor, or by being bullied, shamed, and victim-blamed by peers. These obstacles make coming forward all the more difficult, and often lead to feelings of guilt, self-doubt, shame and silence. All of this is made worse by the fact that most survivors of sexual assault know that less than 3% of rapists have ever seen a day in prison.

To be clear, false accusations of rape are exceedingly rare. Progressives must not only believe survivors like Fussell, who are brave enough to step forward despite high costs to their mental health and reputation, but also trust and support them.

The moment Fussell’s piece began circulating among progressive circles, an assortment of excuses were made to blame her. These preposterous claims, which seem to have come straight from the Rape Culture 101 Playbook, were being parroted by so-called progressive allies of sexual assault survivors. Most disappointingly, there was (and is) a deep unwillingness to take Fussell’s story seriously and hold Randolph accountable for the workplace sexual harassment that happened under her watch. Many progressive groups that supported Randolph were more concerned with defending Randolph than standing with a survivor of sexual violence.

Susannah Randolph was by far the stronger candidate than her opponents when it comes to progressive policy issues, but positions on issues are not enough. If we want to build a truly progressive society, we must hold candidates like Randolph accountable for their proclaimed values. Progressive candidates who actually demonstrate just how tightly they hold their professed values and what it means to live by them are stronger candidates.

Time and time again, members of the progressive community have been on the right side of history. With our track record of fighting for the most marginalized populations and communities, it is especially troubling to hear progressive leaders use rhetoric rooted in rape culture and to see them handle allegations of sexual harm by doubting survivors.

We do ourselves no favors by discrediting survivors like Holly Fussell. When we turn our backs on one survivor, we turn our backs on survivors everywhere. As progressive candidates, organizers, activists, and members of the media, we can and must do better.

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