Why you should care
Because it’s time to talk about sexual assault.
On Tuesday, she was resplendent as she claimed the mantle of the Democratic Party — and made a historic first: “Tonight’s victory is not about one person,” Hillary Clinton said. “It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”
But amid her supporters’ celebrations — about making history, about what women can do in America, about how far we’ve come, baby — came more developments in the case of Brock Allen Turner, convicted of sexual assault on the campus of Stanford University. That invoked much different images: a young woman prone behind a dumpster, her dress hiked up, pine needles in her hair, her limp body assaulted.
Which of these images — Hillary in white, beaming confidence; or an unnamed victim half dressed, unconscious — better represents the state of women’s rights in America? To be sure, each of them is more complicated than first glance. Ever since she entered the arena of national politics, Clinton’s gender has been used against her — as gender has been used against other women in power. And the uproar over Turner’s sentence attests to an awakening, even a fury, about treating women as usual. While the victim remains anonymous, she has a powerful voice, one that’s galvanized the country.
Democratic nominee Clinton has a remarkable opportunity to light a fire under this issue — and make violence against women a centerpiece of her campaign. Doing so wouldn’t just help women, but would, let’s be honest, be solid strategy against her no-holds-barred, down-and-dirty opponent, the Donald. She clearly has the cred: All the way back as first lady, she helped create the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and electrified a global audience by proclaiming women’s rights human rights. Thanks in part to her work, more women these days — like the woman attacked by Turner — report sexual assaults and are taken seriously when they do.
The timing’s right, whether or not she embraces it. At times, especially on the campaign trail, Barack Obama seemed to studiously avoid talking about race and advocating for racial equality. In 2009, just a couple of weeks before the inauguration of America’s first Black president, police murdered Oscar Grant, another Black man, in Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station. There was video footage, protests and a short sentence that provoked outrage and more protests. With time, awareness, publicity and more killings, police brutality against people of color became a defining issue of Obama’s presidency.
But Obama almost couldn’t avoid peppering his two terms with moments that moved the conversation about police brutality forward — for instance, putting pressure on police departments to reform and retrain their police officers. After the 2013 murder of a teenager in Florida, he said, movingly, “Trayvon Martin could have been me.”
Perhaps Clinton, like Obama, will hesitate to speak out. Yet if she wins the general election and places women’s rights front and center, she might even have more support backing her up than Obama did on race issues. This congressional session has already seen Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand (who filled Clinton’s vacancy in the Senate when Clinton became secretary of state) lead the discussion of an act addressing campus accountability and safety. And there are many women on tickets come November, on both sides of the aisle, such as Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
“I’m with her” is the rallying cry of Clinton’s supporters. We daresay that “her” should refer to all women around the world.