-- by Lindsay Beyerstein
The Obama camp is reportedly looking for a rape survivor who was billed for her rape kit to appear in an ad. The ad is intended to dramatize a dark episode in Sarah Palin's political past. As Mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin signed off on a budget that cut off city funds for rape exams, forcing many women to pay out of pocket.
Megan at Jezebel thinks it's disturbing that the campaign would ask a survivor to come to them. It strikes her as importantly different to have a victim volunteer, as opposed to having the campaign put out a call.
I disagree. If a woman answers the Obama campaign's call, it will be an act of incredible bravery. She will be viciously attacked by conservatives. The campaign must make sure the woman is briefed on what's likely to happen to her. Death threats are virtually guaranteed. Bushels of hate mail. Disgusting jokes at her expense. She could lose her job. She might lose friends. It's a serious commitment. But if a woman chooses to share her story, knowing the potential repercussions, that's admirable.
Amanda is right, the campaign wouldn't be exploiting a volunteers as long as the volunteer chose to lend her story to the campaign. I bothers me that calling an act "political" is tantamount to calling it tawdry or trivial. Political motives can be profound. People die for their political beliefs.
While researching this article, I had the privilege of interviewing survivors who were billed for their kits. I stress that my subjects didn't have any partisan agenda, they were talking to me as a reporter. The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), a meticulously non-partisan organization, was kind enough to put the word out to their speaker's bureau. I spoke to four or five women who were charged. (None had been raped in Alaska.)
I was impressed by how willing, indeed how determined, these women were to talk on the record using their full real names.
Hannah French, 27-year-old office manager from Tennessee talked about what it was like to have to go to the bank and get a notorized document to stop the collection calls from a hospital in Mississippi while she trying to cope with the aftermath of being raped by her best friend's husband. She said that one of the hardest things about surviving rape was having nowhere she could go to talk because nobody knew what to say to her. She said she thought even shows like "Law and Order Special Victims" were important because they brought up the issue of rape on a weekly basis.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE. You can also reach the new National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at rainn.org