Democratic congresswoman and sexual assault survivor Ayanna Pressley says she wants to start an “uncomfortable” national conversation about sexual harassment and abuse — and she’s urging her party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden to engage more fully in this dialogue.
Biden has been accused by Tara Reade, a former aide, of sexual assault. Reade alleges the former vice president pinned her against a wall in 1993, reached under her skirt and pushed his fingers inside her. Biden said Friday that Reade’s allegations were “unequivocally” untrue.
In a Medium blog post published Tuesday, Pressley, who was elected in 2018 as Massachusetts’ first Black congresswoman, suggested that Reade’s accusations needed to be heard.
“Our assumptions and our starting points” for conversations about sexual violence have to change in America and “the allegations against Joe Biden are no exception,” wrote Pressley, who has spoken publicly in the past about her own sexual trauma.
“Listening to the stories of those who step forward is the baseline. We say ‘believe survivors’ because, for nearly all of history, the experiences of survivors have been dismissed and derided by a society steeped in misogyny and hatred. We advocate that we begin with assumptions of credibility and move to due process and reconciliation,” she continued.
Pressley ― who in November endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for president ― said she’s been told to “lower her voice” on the allegations against Biden given the magnitude of the upcoming presidential election.
“We are in the throes of an election of the greatest consequence — one that will determine if core rights and tenets of democracy survive in this nation. The stakes cannot be overstated. But I have no patience for any person who tells me that is a reason to lower my voice,” Pressley wrote. “I reject the false choice that my party and our nominee can’t address the allegations at hand and defeat the occupant of the White House.”
The congresswoman said the Biden campaign has an opportunity to help change the way conversations around sexual violence are had in this country.
″[For] those who do ... seek to reframe our conversations and work in pursuit of justice, we are required to raise our hands and our voices. It will take discipline and courage, but survivors and marginalized people from all walks of life are watching, wondering if — this time — the conversation might actually change,” she wrote.
“So I’m here to ask the Biden campaign and the nominee to give a response that models the empathy, diligence, and acknowledgement of broken systems that this conversation demands. I’m asking for true partnership with survivors and advocates, and for policy commitments that get us closer as a nation to reconciling our history of structural violence and oppression,” Pressley added.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.