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Falce: Victims get to decide about coming forward

October 6, 2018

No one should be dragged into a spotlight.

I learned that lesson when I was in ballet in first grade. I loved being on stage, loved the music, loved the costume and the audience. But another girl in my class did not. She couldn’t even take the bright lights of the practice studio, and on a regular basis, when she got pulled into doing something in front of everybody, she wet her pants.

I have thought about that a lot recently.

There is something immeasurably brave about standing in front of the world and saying that someone hurt you. Doing that makes it possible for things to change. It makes a difference to the person who might not be a victim because of that change. It is powerful, and it is a sacrifice.

Let’s disabuse ourselves right now of the idea that this is just about any particular story you follow on Fox or MSNBC or the New York Times or the Tribune-Review. It’s not. It’s about all of the cases where someone comes forward or doesn’t, whether in Chicago or Los Angeles or Pittsburgh or Elk County.

It’s about sexual assault, and it’s about workplace harassment. It’s about not getting a house because of your race or being afraid you will lose your job because of your age. It’s about any abuse, and any stand against that abuse.

And it’s about the right to not stand up.

It is easy to champion the people who willingly step into the spotlight. It’s easy to applaud the courage of the person who didn’t want to take the mic, but did it anyway.

It is harder, sometimes, to praise the person who sits in the dark. No, they didn’t step forward. They were too busy trying to survive.

In a climate where we face daily battles between accusers and accusees, it’s worth spending a moment on the people who don’t want to be the subject of the conversation. If forcing someone to have sex is awful, what is forcing someone to talk about it?

On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway told CNN anchor Jake Tapper that she was a sexual assault victim while talking about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings which hit a speed bump of assault and alcohol accusations.

On Thursday, Mika Brzezinski responded on “Morning Joe,” pushing Conway to “tell your story because you say women should be heard.”

That’s not a decision for Brzezinski -- who said she is also a victim -- gets to make for Conway, anymore than someone gets to decide who should tell his parents he is gay or who needs to prioritize standing up to workplace discrimination over the paycheck that feeds her kids.

None of these things are easy. The decision that is right for one person could create a frying pan-fire situation for someone else. And yes, Conway may have alluded to the abuse in an interview, but she is under no obligation to satisfy anyone’s curiosity or become anyone’s poster child.

We are either in favor of autonomy or we aren’t. We cannot say that you have control over your body but not your decisions. We can’t support your right to live freely or work freely but demand that you talk about the most personal events to the widest audience possible.

Even people who court the spotlight get to decide what they do when they stand there.

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