So often, criticism is levied at politicians for an array of issues, much of it warranted. Sometimes, though, these folks use their office to make powerful statements that reach millions and have the potential to generate real change. On numerous occasions, Vice-President Joe Biden has done so, and he recently did again in a statement issued in response to that made by the woman who was raped by Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Biden’s heartfelt note of solidarity moved me to tears, and his continued advocacy for ending rape culture represents some of the best of Washington, D.C. Biden had no motive to write this other than genuine empathy. Here’s what I think Biden did so well in his response.
Biden’s heartfelt note of solidarity moved me to tears, and his continued advocacy for ending rape culture represents some of the best of Washington, D.C.
First, he acknowledged the courage it took this survivor to share her story in such detail. While no survivor should ever be pushed or coerced into rehashing the assault, those who do so help pave the way for others, and they also serve to educate people about the reality of rape. Although repeatedly stating that he does not know her name, Biden’s letter is deeply personal, for he notes, “you so eloquently represent every woman.” This, of course, is reference to the everyday sexism, the routine harassment and assault of women, that is all too real.
Second, Biden recognized that a lot of people have failed this survivor, not just on the night of the attack but in the months following. He calls out the people at the party who could have intervened when she was clearly incapacitated, the people who question whether her drinking somehow “brought this on.” Biden clearly dismisses those who would refer to this situation as “two drunk kids who made a mistake,” explaining that this incident will not define her, but it will indeed define Brock Turner.
Third, Biden indicts the broader culture that allows young people to not just turn a blind eye, but to disbelieve. Biden similarly denounces Turner’s father for referring to the incident as “20 minutes of action,” an appalling implication that the “action” was mere sex, not a violent crime. He notes that rates of sexual assault on campuses have not changed in decades, stating that “it’s a failure that lies at all of our feet.”
Fourth, Biden implores others to read her story, to share it, and to use it to facilitate conversations. This, he maintains, will help save lives and stimulate people to intervene in cases of sexual assault—as Biden powerfully wrote “We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did—and shine.”
Many are engaged in efforts to remove the judge who sentenced Turner to a ridiculous six months in county jail and three years of probation and to otherwise address the many problems with how our courts handle sexual assault. I applaud these efforts. I do hope, however, that this survivor’s story, and Biden’s supportive response, will remind us that it is not just the courts that fail victims, it is all of us. And, as Biden has repeatedly said, it’s on all of us to change rape culture.