Will We Investigate Tara Reade's Claim? Survivors Are Watching

Will We Investigate Tara Reade's Claim? Survivors Are Watching
(AP Photo/Donald Thompson)
Will We Investigate Tara Reade's Claim? Survivors Are Watching
(AP Photo/Donald Thompson)
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On April 9, 2020, Tara Reade reported an incident of sexual assault to the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. The alleged assault took place in 1993, but there is no statute of limitations on her claim. It was 23 days later when Joe Biden, the man she accused, addressed the allegations in an interview on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” Yet, this discussion should be far from over. 

If someone files a police report alleging a crime as serious as sexual assault, there should be an investigation. If we want to support survivors and stop abusers, we must apply the very same standards of investigation and support to every possible victim who comes forward.

I don't ask that we believe Reade. I ask that we maintain unwavering principles and allow a process to find the truth -- even if the accuser’s allegation is politically inconvenient -- so that her coming forward has a ripple effect of helping others.

Many D.C. media elites, already hostile to the potential of a second term for President Trump, seem to have taken on the role of police, prosecutor, and jury, all at the same time. This hybrid of criminal/journalistic malfeasance should not replace a legitimate investigation. During my career as a survivor and an advocate, I have worked with more than 1,500 victims who survived sex trafficking and sexual violence. When we do not take assault claims seriously, the damage can be severe for the victim. If we do, we help save others from being victims in the future. Here is how:

First, there is no magic formula for coming forward to allege sexual assault. Traumatic experiences cause memory loss and erode trust. Coming forward with a well-crafted and perfectly time-lined story of events leading up to and during the assault is rare. This psychological process is what I teach when training law enforcement to interview victims of sex trafficking. So, it's perfectly reasonable for Reade to add to (i.e., not change) her story as she builds trust and gains confidence, just as we must take her allegations seriously. It's also common for the abuser to distract others with claims that the victims can't even "remember the facts" or question why they didn't come forward sooner. 

By looking at Reade's allegations against Biden through the prism of politics, we miss a critical point. She has accused him of committing a sex-based crime, which is a violation of human rights. Such allegations are reported far less than half the time experts say they occur, so it is incumbent that those who do so be treated seriously and that no one "gets off the hook" regardless of political expediency or how popular the accused is. Most sexual predators and their lawyers (and in this case, seemingly media friends) assert their innocence, and Joe Biden certainly has a right to make that claim. Tara Reade has a right to her allegation. Both have a right to due process, which ought to take place in courts, not on a talk show.

Often, victims are reluctant to come forward because their abuser says "no one will believe" them, and they will "look crazy." Many do not want the label of victim hanging over them for the rest of their lives. Many survivors remember additional facts over time after the fear begins to wear off.

As this process begins, law enforcement collects evidence to build a case to turn over to prosecutors. Normally, in this phase of the investigation, they would never turn over their victim's statements to the accuser merely because he asked them to do so. Doing so could taint the investigation. But this type of special favor or investigatory malfeasance is what Biden seeks when he demands to see documents (reportedly under lock and key at the University of Delaware) of her alleged report. 

More than 50% of the survivors of sex trafficking I served were arrested before being treated as victims. They were not just victimized by their trafficker but also by often hundreds of men who raped them and the courts that failed them. They are the victims and survivors who are watching again as another woman gets blasted in the media for daring to be politically inconvenient for the sake of seeking justice for herself and others.

Reade's case deserves an investigation; it may also ensure that the next time a woman makes allegations against a powerful man, we all will treat her with dignity and fairness.

Survivors across the country are quietly watching and wondering what would happen if they came forward. 

Andrea Powell is founding president of Karana Rising, a nonprofit and social enterprise venture in Washington D.C., that supports youth survivors of human trafficking..

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