01:23 - Source: CNN
Fairfax calls for FBI investigation into allegations

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN —  

I worry about how people will react to Meredith Watson.

Jill Filipovic
Courtesy of Jill Filipovic
Jill Filipovic

She’s the second woman who has come forward to say Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax raped her, lending her story and her voice to the growing calls for him to step down. She says Fairfax raped her in college, when they were both at Duke University. According to Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, Fairfax told Watson that he assaulted her because “I knew that because of what happened to you last year, you’d be too afraid to say anything.”

What had happened to her? She was allegedly raped by basketball player Corey Maggette, and according to Watson, the school turned its back on her. She says she reported it to a dean, who, according to her lawyer, “discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.” Fairfax allegedly knew about that institutional failure, and Watson’s feelings of betrayal. He had good reason to believe she wouldn’t report another attack. (Maggette and Fairfax both deny the allegations, and Duke says they are looking into the claims).

Why am I worried now? Because even with the successes of the #MeToo movement, our collective understanding of sexual violence remains limited. A woman who says she was raped is increasingly credible. But a woman who says she was raped twice? Our cultural framework for that too often casts her as a liar. Never mind that sexual assault isn’t like lightning – victims are often struck multiple times, in multiple forms. Sexual violence is also not random – predators seek out the vulnerable, and women and girls who have already survived trauma are often identified as targets.

But this reality remains largely beyond our cultural imagination. Perhaps it’s too ugly and painful to face, and so instead we shift our gaze, and assume women who say they’ve been victimized multiple times are being dramatic, or exaggerating, or seeking attention, or lying.

We can’t look away from this. So far, after some initial hesitation, local and national Democratic leaders have been virtually united in calling for Fairfax’s resignation. There’s no indication that will stop, and Fairfax has taken a leave of absence from his law firm. But there are of course Fairfax loyalists who seem to be encouraging him to stay in office, and Fairfax himself is refusing to step down and has called for an FBI investigation of the allegations against him. All of this is made more complicated by a racism scandal continuing to plague Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam – Fairfax, who is black, would take the governor’s place if he resigned.

Both Fairfax and Northam should step down. And Democrats should be unwavering in their demands that Fairfax go. This could also be an important #MeToo moment in telling complicated stories and making clear that sexual violence is not a random act of passion or bad behavior that happens to land on whoever is in the room, but often a planned attack on a selected target.

Often, the target is selected because she is less powerful than the attacker, or needs something from him – as was the situation in the Weinstein and Cosby cases. Often, the target is selected because she is vulnerable, and the attacker knows she won’t be believed. That is what is alleged here. We see the same dynamic in the pervasive violence against other vulnerable girls and women: Girls in foster care or the juvenile justice system; sex workers; trans women.

It is imperative that Democrats recognize that these new allegations make the case more disturbing, not less credible. It’s even more important that Republicans take note. As Democrats have increasingly done the right thing in recent years about accused sexual abusers in their ranks, Republicans have let them rise. They’ve run them for office. They’ve appointed them to the Supreme Court.

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    If Democrats want any moral high ground at all, they must continue on this path of pushing Fairfax to resign. And when allegations of sexual violence are inevitably raised against Republicans in the future, we must demand that they do the same. It is the very least women deserve.