Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions has not shown himself to be a “friend to vulnerable survivors” of sexual assault, a survivor of childhood sexual violence testified Wednesday.
Los Angeles resident Amita Swadhin testified against the Alabama Republican senator whom President-elect Donald Trump tapped to lead the Justice Department — in part because of his response to Trump’s own comments.
Leaked audio from 2005 — published by the Washington Post in October — depicted Trump speaking in a vulgar and sexual manner about women.
Sessions defended Trump in the wake of the audio published in the Post report, chalking it up simply to “very improper language.” He also declined to define the actions that Trump described doing to women, including “grabbing” women by the “pussy,” as sexual assault.
During her testimony Wednesday, Swadhin described how she was raped by her own father “at least once a week” for eight years. But as the audio of Trump’s comments leaked, Swadhin said that she, along with millions of other sexual assault survivors, were triggered.
“As a publicly out survivor of child sexual abuse, many people have downplayed the impact of this violence on my present day life,” Swadhin said. “I live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and struggle every day to be well. It directly and negatively impacts me when people minimize sexual assault.”
“So to hear Sen. Sessions initially say President-elect Trump’s comments do not constitute sexual assault, and then to consider him leading the Department of Justice has been incredibly worrisome,” she continued.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), too, noted Session’s reaction to the leaked audio as a reason for her qualms against his appointment to head the Justice Department.
“He has a real role, and if he doesn’t understand the basic tenets of what sexual assault is, I don’t think he has the background and knowledge he will need to be attorney general,” Gillibrand said in November.
Swadhin also criticized Sessions for his voting record on the Violence Against Women Act. Sessions initially supported the legislation but ultimately did not vote for it because of a provision that would allow tribal courts to try defendants who were not tribe members, he testified Tuesday.
“We need an attorney general who is committed to improving and enforcing our laws to ensure the most vulnerable victims of crime can come forward to seek accountability and to access healing,” Swadhin said. “Time and again, Sen. Session’s voting record has shown us he is not the man for the job.”
“Despite his claim to be a champion to victims of violent crime, he has not been a friend to vulnerable survivors,” she added.
However, not every anti-sexual violence advocate is a proponent of VAWA, the federal law signed by former President Bill Clinton that, among other things, provides federal funds for the investigation and prosecution in cases of violent crimes against women.
Meaghan Ybos, founder of the Memphis-based advocacy group People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws, said that her organization believes “the way to achieve equitable policing is through local political action like civilian oversight of police departments — not through the federal government.”
“VAWA can’t accomplish what individuals can accomplish in their own communities,” she told TheBlaze.
But during her testimony Wednesday, Swadhin credited VAWA for a better response by law enforcement officials to victims of sexual violence.
“Despite this progress, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence still happen at epidemic rates, and survivors at the intersection of oppression are especially vulnerable,” Swadhin said.
Citing others who experience sexual violence, Swadhin testified that “most violent crimes remain unreported,” a statistic substantiated by RAINN, the nation’s leading anti-sexual violence organization.
According to RAINN, an estimated two out of every three sexual assaults go unreported to police. The majority of those who do not report, RAINN says, is due to the victim wishing to protect a reoccurrence or further crimes by the accused.