Why Recruiting A Rape Survivor For A Political Ad Makes Me Uncomfortable

On Monday, the news that the Obama campaign was supposedly actively recruiting a rape victim to appear in a campaign spot left me feeling vaguely disturbed, and I said so. Other women, like Ann at Feministing, Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Lindsay Beyerstein of Firedoglake (as well as some of you) disagreed. And, that's fine. But I think it deserves to be a conversation. As the victim of sexual assaults, I too would like to be able to stand up and say what was done to me without pitying looks or shocked looks or discomfort. It's why I am willing to talk about mine. But there's a pretty big gap, to me, between trying to make saying "I was sexually assaulted" as normative an experience for me, the speaker, as for the listener, and being asked to use it to say, "Please go elect Barack Obama."Like most things related to my sexual assault, it took me a couple of days to really understand why this makes me so uncomfortable. For one, as I've said before, my sexual assault is not someone else's political issue. It has nothing to do with Sarah Palin's view on emergency contraceptives (which suck), or who paid for my rape kit or whether I have the right to have an abortion. It just doesn't. It has a lot to do with how the system treated me, and continues to treat me, how the prosecutors and police department tore my life open and left me hanging and violated my Constitutional rights. I want those things fixed, because that's the only justice I'm ever going to see. Those things have nothing to do with this election, and Barack Obama isn't likely to get me justice any more than Sarah Palin is. And, let's be frank, a lot of rape victims struggle with guilt, and struggle with saying "no." I have. And so if I was asked — by a friend, say, who works for the Obama campaign — I would have difficulty saying no. Because I am willing to talk about it, right? And I don't want McCain elected, right? And yet the whole time, I would be feeling uncomfortable and obligated because in my opinion, I've been attacked enough this year. So, I wouldn't want to be asked. I wouldn't want to be thought of. And I wouldn't find refusing easy. My point remains, as it did on Monday, that recruiting for what was an as-yet unscripted ad among women you don't know — as Kiersten Steward seemed to be doing when she said, "this is a big ask and I haven’t seen a script" — is not quite the same as asking women who are already willing to talk (or have, as part of speaker's bureaus) about their assaults. That women can or would volunteer to do so is great, and a testament to the courage of those women. But not everyone is there, and not everyone would know how to refuse. On top of that, I have a little experience with how campaign ads use crime victims, from when Tom Tancredo's campaign appropriated the image of my close friend's murdered client for an ad of his own. I was so angry, and he (and her family) were even more livid. And the details of my sexual assault are as easily appropriated for causes I disagree with — immigration reform, say, or tougher sentences or more invasive sex offender registries. Where would it stop? I'm not sure it would. Using my sexual assault for this kind of political purpose, as Lindsay acknowledges, would be to open myself up for attack and — which is worse, to me, as I open myself up to personal attack every day I write — to lose what little control I have of how my story is told, when I am ready to tell it. So, I acknowledge what Ann, Amanda and Lindsay have to say about having a real victim talk about their sexual assaults, and talk about the issues in the campaign, from who pays for rape kits to the necessity of offering victims access to emergency contraception — though, frankly, I think it's as disingenuous to suggest that Palin supports raping women as it is to suggest that Obama supports infanticide. But, for me, from my experience, I remain uncomfortable at the thought that my sexual assault and my politics would mean that someone would think to recruit me for a political ad. And I can't say that I'm super-pleased that so many people seemingly think I ought not to be. On Recruiting Rape Survivors For Political Ads [Feministing] Over the Line [Pandagon] Obama Recruiting Rape Survivors for Campaign Ads [Firedoglake] Palin Opens Up On Controversial Issues [CBS] Obama Sought Rape Victim For Ad [Politico] Tancredo Ad Writers Are Shitty Human Beings [Wonkette]

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