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The Atlantic
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The Atlantic
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I Kept Talking to My Rapists
When people ask me why I never reported my rapists, I reply: “It was just easiest for me to pretend it didn’t happen,” “I didn’t want to be a victim,” “I was embarrassed,” “I was scared.” These same explanations appear in the testimonies of the women who say that the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted them.As I read the coverage of Weinstein’s trial, I saw how his defense attorneys perpetuated common misconceptions about how women should respond to assault. “A true rape victim,” they said, certainly wouldn’t continue speaking with her rapist. But I did. Most sexual-assault victims don’t report their perpetrators—I didn’t—so the myriad ways that women respond are not usually made public. So many of us berate ourselves over the question “Why did I not have the right response?”Even though more than 90 women have publicly said that Weinstein sexually harassed and abused them, he stood trial in New York for allegedly raping only two women: Miriam Haley, a former production assistant, and Jessica Mann, an aspiring actor. (New York’s statute of limitations bars most of the women from pressing charges.) Haley says he raped her in 2006; Mann says he raped her twice in 2013. Yesterday, the jury found Weinstein guilty of a felony sex crime and rape in the third degree. He now faces a prison sentence of five to 29 years.[Barabara Bradley Hagerty: The Weinstein verdict shows why rape convictions are so rare]During the trial, Weinstein’s defense built most of its case around the fact that Haley and Mann maintained contact with the producer after he raped them. His attorneys fished through email and text messages between Weinstein and the women, dredging up supposedly compromising exchanges. Two years after the attack, Haley signed an email to him “Lots of Love.” She also texted him: “Hi! Just wondering if u have any news on whether Harvey will have time to see me before he leaves? X Miriam.” Mann also sent messages to Weinstein, such as, “I appreciate all you do for me.” His attorneys held up each message as if it undoubtedly proved his innocence. In a statement to the judge, the defense described the exchanges as “so unlike what one would expect to be communications between a true rape victim and her alleged rapist.”However, as the forensic psychiatrist Barbara Ziv testified for the prosecution, sexual-assault victims “almost always” return to their assailants. “Most individuals think, I can put it behind me; I can move on with my life and forget about what happened to me. I don’t want it to get worse. I don’t want this person who sexually assaulted me to ruin my friendships or put my job in jeopardy,” she explained.Most victims know their abusers. According to RAINN, eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Not surprisingly, a woman reacts differently during and after a sexual assault perpetrated by an acquaintance, a friend, a colleague, a boss, or a family member than she would to one perpetrated by a stranger. Sometimes, that reaction may even seem unusual. Each time I was raped, I knew the perpetrator. When a stranger tried to sexually assault me, I fought him off, but when friends raped me, I froze.The first time, I was 19 years old. The friend—I’ll call him Mark—carried me, passed out, into his basement room and raped me. He apologized two or three days later, and I quickly said something like, “Oh, it’s fine. Everybody makes mistakes.” I pushed the rape aside, or tried to. I told myself, Well, he’d been drinking; I’d been drinking. Is it worth ending a friendship of five years over one mistake? Because of this rationale, I allowed myself to see him a few times after the rape. I felt I had to see him. I didn’t know how to tell our friends that I couldn’t spend time with them if Mark was there. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they blamed me? Eventually, I let those friendships go. It seemed easier than trying to explain what had happened.Sometimes a sexual-assault victim can’t believe, or acknowledge, that she was assaulted. Haley said that she didn’t initially consider Weinstein’s actions an assault, because she “didn’t physically resist.” She said, “I felt like an idiot, and I felt numb.”I also didn’t physically resist Mark. I also felt like an idiot. I also felt numb. I also then wondered whether Mark’s actions counted as sexual assault. Then, in my 20s, I was raped by a co-worker, someone I also considered a friend. Pretending it never happened allowed me to return to the office the next day. Seeing this co-worker afterward, I felt some brief sense of control. If I could work with this man, then surely I could get past the rape.After Weinstein allegedly raped Mann, she testified that she “entered into what I thought was going to be a real relationship with him—and it was extremely degrading from that point on.” Weinstein’s attorneys pointed to this as further proof that he couldn’t have possibly raped her. Dating her attacker may give a survivor some sense of power. If you’ve ever laughed despite feeling profound grief, then you understand that sometimes our actions and feelings don’t predictably align.After 14 years of silence between Mark and me, I interviewed him for a book I was writing. Talking with him again all these years later—shaping the narrative—was my way of taking control. He explained he knew that what he was doing that night was wrong while he was doing it, but he did it anyway. “It was a huge betrayal,” he said. “I’ve felt terrible about it for however many years now. I have to admit I was really surprised to hear from you. I kind of assumed I never would again.”Even all these years later, I tried to accommodate him. While transcribing the audio of our conversations, I noticed that I often handed the power back to him, telling him, “So this is how I remember the event, but correct me if you have a different memory.” Early in our conversation, I even comforted him, saying, “I hope you know that I don’t hate you, or anything like that,” “I hope it’s in some way helpful for you to know that I genuinely believe you’re a good guy,” and “I hope this is somewhat helpful for you to talk about.”When I pointed this out to Mark on a later call, we both laughed at how deferential I could be. “It’s embarrassing,” I told him. “I didn’t know I did it that much.” He called it “endearing.” I called it “absurd.” He and I sometimes even slipped into reminiscing about high school, as if the rape had never happened. It wasn’t hard to pretend that everything was okay. I had spent years trying to avoid thinking about what he did.[Read: Bad hookup, or sexual assault? Sometimes the friends decide.]At Weinstein’s trial, I wasn’t surprised that his defense attorneys relied on these stereotypes about how women should react to an assault. But I did wonder whether his attorneys either had a low-grade understanding of human behavior or figured the jury did. Did they not know? Or did they know, but not care? Maybe they cared but told themselves they were just doing their job, protecting the sanctity of due process. And then I heard his lawyer Donna Rotunno on The New York Times’ podcast The Daily. Megan Twohey, one of the Times journalists who broke the story about Weinstein’s pattern of abuse, interviewed Rotunno six days after the trial started.As the interview approached the end, Twohey said she had one more question: Had Rotunno ever been sexually assaulted? Rotunno replied, “I have not.” There was a pause. The interview sounded like it was over. And then Rotunno added, “Because I would never put myself in that position.”She continued, “I’ve always made choices from college age on where I never drank too much, I never went home with someone I didn’t know, I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance. Ever.”I knew then that his defense believed that there was a right and wrong way for an assault to unfold. I am not ashamed that I was drunk when I was raped, but I am livid that, as a woman who has gotten drunk, I am made to feel as if I deserved to be raped. Or that because I talked to my rapists after the rapes, that means I’d consented to sex with them.In her closing arguments for the prosecution, Joan Illuzzi, an assistant district attorney, smartly used the defense’s point—that the women stayed in touch with Weinstein—against Weinstein. “He made sure he had contact with the people he was worried about,” Illuzzi said, adding, “That’s the mark of a predator.”Like the prosecution, we need to focus on a perpetrator’s actions instead of immediately searching for weaknesses in a victim’s account.We need to destigmatize victimhood and expand our notions of how a victim can think and feel and react.We need to recognize that it’s complicated.
9 h
theatlantic.com
The Trump-Modi Playbook
During his inaugural presidential visit to India, Donald Trump was greeted with a rally at the world’s largest cricket stadium. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a typical Trump event back home in the United States, he waxed lyrical about an electoral win. Only this time, he wasn’t referring to his own.“Last year, more than 600 million people went to the polls and gave him a landslide victory like no other, in the largest democratic election ever held anywhere on the face of the Earth,” Trump said of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a crowd of more than 100,000 people in Ahmedabad, the first stop on his two-day tour of the country. Trump praised Modi for being an “exceptional leader” and a “very tough negotiator,” calling his ascent to the premiership an “incredible rise.”Trump has a well-documented affinity for his host, and it’s not hard to see why. The pair share a number of similarities, including a nativist governing philosophy and a strongman appeal. Perhaps their greatest commonality, though, is their adherence to a familiar autocratic playbook, the likes of which have been adopted by other democratically elected leaders around the world.[William J. Burns: The U.S.-India relationship is bigger than Trump and Modi]What makes an autocrat? In the most narrow sense, it is a ruler who governs with absolute power. Though neither Trump nor Modi can lay claim to exercising that kind of influence (both India and the U.S. have robust, albeit strained, democratic institutions), their illiberal tendencies offer some insight into what a democracy in autocratic transition might look like. As the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies, their shared disregard for norms, disdain for dissent (from the media and elsewhere), and dedication to strengthening their own executive power at the expense of state institutions designed to curb it have made them emblematic of the democratic deterioration that has been taking place in recent years.A mainstay of autocratic rule is the consolidation of executive power. In some countries, this tactic plays out in a sort of piecemeal way. For example, Trump’s bid to extend his presidential authority in the U.S. has steadily increased overtime, from his attempts to defy Congress and the Constitution over his hard-line immigration policies to his impeachment-spurring efforts to withhold congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. In both cases, Trump’s rationale was largely the same: to invoke presidential privilege or, in autocratic speak, to declare himself constitutionally above the law. Similarly, Modi has tested the limits of his authority in India—most recently by unilaterally revoking the constitutionally enshrined autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state; by establishing new limits on India’s citizenship laws that discriminate against Muslims; and by imposing violent crackdowns on protests across the country.This extension of executive power takes more blatant forms in other democratic countries, however. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has overseen a raft of reforms designed to grant him sweeping new powers, including the authority to appoint senior officials and declare states of emergency. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party has gone to great lengths to impose its authority over the country’s judicial system. And in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has bypassed due process altogether, overseeing a “war on drugs” in the country that has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of tens of thousands of people, according to rights groups.Another hallmark of autocratic rule is the repression of dissent—particularly that from the media. In the U.S., this has largely come in the form of the White House withholding press briefings and attacking news outlets and journalists perceived as critical. In India, the government’s relationship with the press has gone well beyond condemnation, with Modi opting to amend accreditation guidelines in order to weed out “fake news,” exacerbating self-censorship, and, in one case, even revoking a form of Indian citizenship from a critical journalist.Efforts to quell dissent have been no less prevalent in other democratic countries led by leaders with autocratic tendencies. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro accused the media of “lying” about the scale of the widely documented Amazon fires last year and has threatened to withhold government advertising funds from outlets deemed to be publishing “fake news.” In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s moves to subjugate the free press have included the establishment of a conglomerate of government-friendly outlets. The most severe examples, however, are in Turkey, which Erdoğan has transformed into the world’s largest jail for journalists, shedding any pretense of freedom of the press.But perhaps the most common trait among burgeoning autocrats in recent years is the growing appeal to populist and nationalist sentiment. This has been most pronounced in India through Modi’s efforts to transform the country from a secular democracy into a theocratic, nationalist one that dominates its minorities. In the U.S., Trump has made his nativist rhetoric about immigration a hallmark of his administration. And in Hungary, much of Orbán’s populist rhetoric against the “elites” has been leveled almost exclusively at one person in particular: the prominent Hungarian-born financier George Soros, who founded the vilified Central European University.[Read: How to build an autocracy]This “autocratization of democracies” hasn’t compelled any of these countries to renounce their democratic credentials, Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center, told me. On the contrary, she said, many of these countries “firmly place their identity on [their] democratic structures,” adding that even countries regarded as more fragile democracies, such as Brazil and the Philippines, continue to tout their democratic identity. (This sets these countries apart from regimes such as China and North Korea, neither of which claims any sort of democratic legitimacy.)Nor have citizens of these countries necessarily turned on their leaders either. In the case of Trump and Modi, both remain relatively popular with their base despite political challenges at home (for Trump, impeachment; for Modi, the political fallout of his Hindu-nationalist project paired with an economic slowdown). Others, such as Duterte, remain wildly popular nationwide. When I asked Inglis whether this approval should register as tacit support for these leaders’ autocratic tendencies, she said it would be better to interpret it within the broader trust deficit in democratic institutions.[Read: This is how democracy dies]“There is an overall declining trust in institutions—in government, in civil society, in [the] media,” she said. “That makes it easier to somehow rationalize the behavior of leaders that would otherwise probably be more concerning.”
9 h
theatlantic.com
Bernie Could Cost Democrats the House
Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders insist that their guy can eject Donald Trump from the White House. The more insistent question, though, is whether Sanders will cost Democrats the House of Representatives.Democrats won the House in 2018, riding a surge of anti-Trump voting from a constituency that’s been scared by the Sanders campaign: older, college-educated, conservative-leaning women. Such voters tipped into the Democratic column the congressional seats once held by George H. W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Eric Cantor.In 2018, upmarket districts voted to reprimand the president’s language and behavior. A Sanders nomination invites those districts to vote in 2020 to raise their taxes and replace their health insurance. That may be a tougher sell.[Annie Lowrey: The Berniephobes are wrong]The Democratic House majority is new, fragile, and dependent on voters who are more conservative than the median Democrat.In 2018, Democrats flipped districts like New Mexico’s Second, which stretches across the bottom tier of the state. Trump carried the district by 10 points in 2016, but Xochitl Torres Small won it by two points in 2018, thanks in part to an ad that showcased her skill with a bird gun. “New Mexicans,” said the ad copy, “don’t care which party gets the credit or the blame. We just want someone to deliver.”Democrats won South Carolina’s First, which stretches from the posh coastal towns of Hilton Head and Beaufort to the Charleston suburbs. The district was formerly held by the very conservative Mark Sanford. Trump won it by 13 points in 2016; freshman Representative Joe Cunningham nabbed it by only one point in 2018.Democrats won New York’s Twenty-Second, which extends from the university city of Binghamton to postindustrial Utica. Trump won there by a staggering 15 points in 2016; Anthony Brindisi defeated by two points a Republican incumbent prone to incendiary comments like—in a radio interview shortly after the Parkland school shooting—“It's interesting that so many of [the] people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats.”Altogether, 31 of the congressional districts won by Trump in 2016 are now held by Democrats, 21 of them freshman. Only three Hillary-won House districts are represented by Republicans.Democrats succeeded in Trump country because the Democratic Party attracted a broad coalition of moderates and liberals. The Sanders campaign aims first and foremost to reinvent the Democratic coalition as a narrower ideological movement, in much the same way that the once-broad Republican coalition has been transformed. But the difference between the two is that many fewer Americans identify as “progressive” than as “conservative.” Worse for Democrats: Not only does Sanders propose to break the cookie in such a way as to leave his party with the smaller piece, but he also does so in a political context that already disfavors them.Democrats hold virtually every one of the urban and academic districts that will rally to progressive politics. But thanks to enterprising candidates who keep in touch with their districts, they also hold Minnesota’s Seventh, a 90 percent white district running north-south adjacent to the two Dakotas. It’s represented in Congress by Collin Peterson, a pro-life Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. In 2018, a Democrat won the country’s richest congressional district, the Virginia Tenth, which has a median household income of more than $127,000. Democrats now represent all of the country’s 10 richest districts.[Peter Beinart: Regular Democrats just aren’t worried about Bernie]Sanders supporters take as an article of faith that Sanders will win votes from working-class voters who swung to Trump in 2016. This idea is based on a single data-point: Some 10 to 12 percent of those who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary then voted for Trump in the general election. If Sanders could have held all those primary voters in a general election, and also if he had won everybody who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary, then he would have defeated Trump. But once you state the two ifs, you see the problem.The political scientist Brian Schaffner, who closely studied these Sanders-Trump switchers, finds that they were older white voters with conservative racial views. As compared with other Sanders voters, the Sanders-Trump switchers were much more likely to deny that white people enjoy special advantages in American society. They were also much less positive about President Obama than were Sanders voters who did not switch to Trump. But there does appear to be a racial component to this, as defectors are much more likely to disagree that whites are advantaged in US 9/n pic.twitter.com/zcoHm9APNf — Brian Schaffner (@b_schaffner) August 23, 2017No Democrat, including Sanders, is likely to outbid Trump for these voters in a general election.Meanwhile, it’s very hard to identify congressional districts where the hypothetical return of Sanders-to-Trump voters to the Democratic column would swing the district—and it’s easy to identify many where discomfort with Sanders could swing the district back to the Republican column.In 2018, Democrat Lizzie Fletcher won Texas’s Seventh, a wealthy district in and around Houston. The district had been held continuously by Republicans since 1966, when it was won by George H. W. Bush. In 2016, Republican John Culberson got almost 144,000 votes; Democrat James Cargas, 112,000. In 2018, the Democratic vote improved to 128,000; the Republican vote fell to 116,000. Yet the district remains Republican +7 according to the Cook Political Report. What happens to Lizzie Fletcher if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination on a message of higher taxes, no private health insurance, and admiration for Fidel Castro? Do you think a Republican House member cannot recover to 144,000 running against that?Bernie Sanders is sometimes compared to George McGovern, the liberal Democrat who lost every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia to Richard Nixon in 1972.[Derek Thompson: Bernie Sanders Is George McGovern]Defenders of Sanders correctly point out that we live in a more polarized and partisan era, and that anti-Trump feeling will surely put a political floor under Sanders well north of McGovern’s 37.5 percent of the vote. And that’s probably true. It’s hard to see Sanders losing California or New York, as McGovern did.But in an important way, Sanders represents an even greater danger to Democrats than McGovern did. McGovern ran in an age of ticket-splitting. In that same election where McGovern did so disastrously, Democrats lost only 12 seats in the House. They actually gained two in the Senate and also won a governorship.That pattern will not repeat itself in 2020. If Sanders loses badly as moderate voters swing away from Democrats, he will take with him a big clutch of House Democrats and Democratic Senate hopefuls. It will be a loss up and down the ticket, a loss that could not only reelect Trump, but also enable him, by preserving his elected bodyguard in the Senate and restoring his majority in the House. The question to weigh before Super Tuesday is thus not only Sanders versus Biden or Sanders versus Bloomberg. It is whether you prefer Speaker Pelosi or Speaker McCarthy, and Chairman Schiff or Chairman Nunes. The hopes of congressional Democrats hang in the balance in the fateful week ahead.
theatlantic.com