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Guest Commentary: Standing up for survivors

A group of assault survivors argue that Larry Krasner is the DA candidate to best help crime victims

The Citizen will publish guest articles, like this one, that add to the local civic discussion. To submit, click here.

Dear Philadelphia,

We are women who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence and its aftermath.

We write this letter because we are tired of hearing ourselves invoked as voiceless “victims” in the conversations surrounding the District Attorney race. We are not victims; we are survivors. Our stories belong to us, and we will not allow our trauma to be appropriated and used to attack Larry Krasner, a District Attorney candidate who we know would, if elected, work to empower and defend women who have experienced sexual violence.

Collectively, we have survived rape, molestation, harassment and other criminal indignities—some of us more than once. We come from many different backgrounds, but we have one thing in common: experiences of sexual violence that were painful and humiliating. In every one of our cases, our attackers robbed us of something very precious: our sense of bodily autonomy and personal agency.

For some of us, this is the first time we have talked publicly about these experiences. None of us signs our name to this lightly. We know that any time women speak out about an experience of sexual violence, they can expect degrading and snide comments about their integrity, their appearance, their motivations.

But this race is too important for us to stay silent, and as we see others use arguments centered around sexual violence as a disingenuous means to attack Larry, we feel we have to speak out. We speak out not only for ourselves, but also for the many other survivors we have talked to about this letter—women who wished to sign but ultimately declined for fear of reprisal or because they have colleagues, friends, and family who still do not know their story.

We want a District Attorney who understands that all survivors heal differently, a DA who realizes that prosecutors must be mindful of that reality. We want a District Attorney who will create a culture of justice, a system that treats women like us not as powerless victims, but as the strong survivors that we are.

Some of us have reported our assaults to the police. Some of us have chosen not to, because we know how humiliating and disempowering the current reporting and prosecutorial system is for survivors. Those of us who have chosen to go through the process of pressing charges want to state unequivocally that the process is broken. Some of us have interacted with unsympathetic police who refused to take our cases seriously. Some of us have dealt with officers who at every turn seemed to do their best to discourage us and the District Attorney from bothering to pursue charges. One of us has experienced sexual assault at the hands of a police officer. Many of us have found the current District Attorneyʼs office resistant to acting on or prosecuting our cases, some have had the DAʼs office decline to prosecute at all, and none of us has felt ownership or agency in the process of shaping our cases if and when they were taken up by the District Attorneyʼs office                  

We are disturbed and disappointed when we see our self-interest misrepresented in the “victim rights” narratives that have been used against Larry. We read these attacks with the knowledge that “victim rights” is coded language for the kind of (in)justice that is the legacy of former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the prosecutor once dubbed “Americaʼs Deadliest DA” by the New York Times. The story told by the “victim rights” crowd is one of helpless victims who need prosecutorial saviors to help them visit vengeance upon the evil, dehumanized accused. It is a story with ugly racist, sexist, and classist undertones, it is a story used to defend and perpetuate mass incarceration, and it is a story that we as survivors and as people concerned with justice reject wholesale.

We are not, and have never been, helpless victims. We are strong women who experienced an injustice, and we want our District Attorneyʼs office to allow women like us the agency to work collaboratively with prosecutors in an empowering way. We believe that perpetrators of sexual violence should and must be held accountable. We also, however, believe that the focus of prosecution in such cases should be—must be—on helping survivors find ways to heal and feel whole again—not on exacting vengeance.

We know Larry. Weʼve seen him act as a resource, advisor, and confidant to survivors of sexual violence, and as a pro bono attorney for women who have experienced violence at the hands of the state. We know that were he to be elected District Attorney, we would be able to trust his approach to handling sexual assault cases.

We donʼt write this letter to demonize ADAs or others who work in the District Attorneyʼs office. We write this knowing that these dynamics arenʼt the product of individual actors, but rather symptoms of a dysfunctional culture that must be changed from the top down. We know Larry. Weʼve seen him act as a resource, advisor, and confidant to survivors of sexual violence, and as a pro bono attorney for women who have experienced violence at the hands of the state. We know that were he to be elected District Attorney, we would be able to trust his approach to handling sexual assault cases. We know he will work with us and other survivors to make long-overdue changes to the way that the DAʼs office handles cases of sexual violence.

We write this fully aware of the fact that Larry has acted as a defense lawyer on a range of cases. We believe that every accused person deserves competent legal representation, and understand that those who offer that representation are a meaningful and necessary part of the legal world. There is no doubt in any of our minds that opportunistic and cruel defense lawyers exist, lawyers who will use degrading and sexist tactics to re-traumatize survivors in an attempt to destroy them and their cases. Some of us have had the humiliating experience of facing such lawyers when we testified against our attackers.

There is, however, no doubt in our minds about this truth: Larry is not and has never been one of those lawyers. We believe that just as it was wrong for Trump and his supporters to vilify Hillary Clinton for fulfilling her duty as a defender, it is wrong for Larryʼs detractors to vilify him for fulfilling his duty to competently represent his clients.

We hope that we never again have to experience the degradation and disempowerment of sexual assault; we hope the same for our sisters, our mothers, our friends. We know, however, that the odds of sexual assault remain high, too high.

As we watch this election, we look at it as an opportunity for Philadelphia to reshape the role of the District Attorneyʼs office, to transform it into a safe and healing space for people who experience sexual violence—a population disproportionately comprised of women and trans people. We want a District Attorney who understands that all survivors heal differently, a DA who realizes that prosecutors must be mindful of that reality. We want a District Attorney who will create a culture of justice, a system that treats women like us not as powerless victims, but as the strong survivors that we are. We want a District Attorney who knows that the role of a legal advocate is to help survivors tell their story in a way that not only builds our cases, but helps us to regain a sense of agency. We know Larry Krasner, and we know that Larry would be that kind of DA.

On Tuesday, we will be voting as Philadelphians, as women, as feminists, and as survivors. On Tuesday, we will be casting our votes for Larry Krasner—and we urge you to do the same.

In the spirit of solidarity and justice,

 Laura Murphy

Gwen Snyder

Jody Dodd

Kathy Seufert

Penelope Waite

Amanda Mcillmurray

Marni Snyder, Esq.

Patti Jepson                   

Anna Frangiosa

Aileen Callaghan

Leslie K. Jones

Robyn Stephens

Naima Taaj

Ajmal Brown

Katy Otto                   

Kris Zwack

April Smith

Mimi Salazar

Kia Philpot

Heather Squire

Amethyst M.

Tammy Murphy

Susanna Martin

Madison Chibirka

Jeanine Campbell

               

           

       

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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