Defining “Survivor”

By Cyberquill 05/30/20164 Comments

Late last year, Hillary Clinton tweeted that “[e]very survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”

Who could possibly argue with that?

Ms Clinton’s pronouncement is as non-controversial as it is cleverly phrased. One expects nothing less from a lawyer/politician than to excel at crafting statements that say one thing but seem to say another, so that at some later point s/he can refer to having ” very clearly” articulated either this or that.

Of course, every survivor of sexual assault—or any assault, for that matter—deserves to be believed and supported.

The tricky part, which the tweet so cagily dodges, is to distinguish between assault survivors and individuals that made bogus assault claims (and who, therefore, are not assault survivors as pertains to the alleged assault(s) at issue).

Although the tweet sounds like suggesting that every person purporting to be a survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed, all it really says is that every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed, leaving unaddressed the question of whether or not everyone that claims to have been sexually assaulted deserves to be believed (at least until incontrovertible evidence to the contrary has come to light, proving a negative being devilishly difficult by definition).

In other words, to determine whether, as per Hillary Clinton, claiming to be a survivor of sexual assault ought to be treated as synonymous with being a survivor of sexual assault, or if she specifically intended her tweet as a dig against false victims (like those she suspects may have lodged phony assault charges against her husband), is left to the discretion of the reader. The Secretary deftly chose to sidestep this very delicate and highly explosive quagmire by taking the vague route—let potential voters define “survivor” for themselves and interpret the tweet accordingly!

And what if a survivor of sexual assault falsely claims she was not assaulted—perhaps in order to protect her assailant—thus in effect hushing up a crime? Does she, too, deserve to be believed?

On second thought, the tweet in question doesn’t look so clever after all.

Update: Flipping through a local Austrian weekly—whose current edition happens to contain a picture of yours truly in an unrelated and (I swear!) non-criminal context, which is why I flipped through it in the first place—I just came across a story of a 19-year-old woman that was caught on a train without a ticket. When the conductor moved to impose upon her the standard fine for fare-dodging, the young lady threatened to report him as having sexually assaulted her, specifically of having grabbed one of her breasts, unless he were to look the other way with respect to her not having a ticket.

Unfortunately for her—and fortunately for the conductor—another passenger witnessed the incident, which ultimately lead to the 19-year-old confessing her extortion attempt to the authorities, and now she’s facing a few months probation.

The question arises, had there been no witness, and had she made good on her threat to file a false sexual assault report in response to the conductor’s refusal to drop her fine, and had she then stuck to her fabrication through hell and high water, would Hillary Clinton consider her a survivor of sexual assault that deserves to be heard, believed, and supported?

Keep in mind that it’s no trick believing someone whose account has been verified beyond a reasonable doubt. Believing—i.e., having faith—only comes into play in the absence of rock-solid proof one way or the other.

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  • Richard

    What of those who can only write of their suffering. Unless Mrs Clinton uses the word survive in the sense of “remaining alive”, have we no obligation to those who have not survived assault? And do we ignore those who paid the ultimate price but spoke or wrote of their experience?

    Of course not, she might say, and she would be believed by the vast majority who would also say she meant to refer only to those telling the truth.

    • Cyberquill

      Good point. Does Ms Clinton think that non-survivors of sexual assault, too, deserve to be believed? Should credence be given to their suicide notes, for example? The word victims may have been a more inclusive choice.

      Moreover, she fails to specify with respect to what matters exactly those survivors/victims deserve to be believed — whether on all matters, only as relates to having been sexually assaulted, or on all matters except as relates to having been assaulted.

      • Richard

        As an adept lawyer/politician, Ms Clinton, as you say, must have chosen her words carefully. So if you are sexually assaulted and Ms Clinton has anything to do with it, you had better survive, if you want justice. It’s a tough world out there.

        • Cyberquill

          If Ms Clinton becomes president, we’ll have to keep careful tabs on how many of her interns mysteriously vanish without a trace.

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