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The Line Between Establishing Credibility and Pushing the Myth of the 'Perfect Victim'

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Political news and commentary has been littered with tales examining the credibility of Tara Reade, the woman who has accused presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., of sexually assaulting her in a Senate office building in 1993.

Of late, the media narrative has focused on Reade’s troubled relationship past, as well as her questionable claims of receiving an undergraduate degree from Antioch University in Seattle. After it surfaced that Reade had given expert domestic violence testimony using these credentials, noted #MeToo lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, dropped her as a client.

While I understand that establishing credibility is critical to ascertaining the truth of an accusation, as a trauma survivor myself, I am adamant that we must differentiate between honest journalism and coverage that employs victim-blaming to discredit people who have had painful experiences as part of their pasts.

The reality is that abusers purposefully prey on those with less-than-perfect histories. At my high school alma mater, for example, a teacher’s identity revolved around serially mistreating at-risk young adults. She would summarily violate her pupils’ boundaries until there was rupture, culminating in a trail of victims whom she portrayed as too damaged to succeed in an academic environment.

As heartbreaking as it is to admit, for abusers, this is by design. Who would be easier to prey upon than an individual who may struggle with boundaries due to childhood abuse and neglect? Who would be easier to discredit than someone with a troubled history? The obvious answer is that trauma survivors are targeted for abuse because the perpetrators — like the teacher at my high school — are well aware that they can get away with it.

In the case of Tara Reade, the reporting about her lies, changing stories and conflicting accounts has merit and is genuine cause for skepticism. That being said, people who dissemble are still sexually assaulted. People who have troubled relationship pasts are still abused. The reality is that Tara Reade may not be telling the truth about Joseph R. Biden, Jr., but fair coverage of the case should not include blame for being preyed upon multiple times or for a checkered financial and relationship history.

We may never know what transpired on that fateful day in 1993 when Reade claims she was sexually assaulted by Biden in a Senate office building. If we learn anything from trauma survivors, however, it should be that the “myth of the perfect victim” is just that, a fairy-tale that does more damage than it actually helps ascertain truth in sexual assault cases. No matter how much we may wish to the contrary, the reality is that there is no model survivor, and expecting perfection only protects the perpetrators.

Getty image via serezniy

Originally published: June 1, 2020
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