Trigger Warning: Sexual assault and gun violence
Of all the dirty campaign tricks, this latest one from Republican lieutenant governor candidate Sue Lowden (or is it Chuck Muth?) has to be one of the vilest. Late Saturday, Steve Sebelius broke the news of a repugnant piece of propaganda released by Lowden’s camp. The six-page letter, written by pro-gun advocate and sexual assault survivor* Amanda Collins, details a graphic and harrowing account of her rape in 2007 on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. (See the full letter here.)
As fundraising pitches go, this could be one of the most brutal ever in Nevada.
From the very first line, the letter grabs readers as sexual assault victim Amanda Collins tells her horrifying story: “He put a gun to my head, clicked off the safety and told me not to say a word … before he brutally raped me,” she writes. “Those were the worst 10 minutes of my life. And thanks to lawmakers such as Nevada state Sen. Mark Hutchison, your mother, daughter, sister or wife could go through the same hellish nightmare!”
And those are just the first few lines on the first page of a six-page missive intended to endorse and raise money for hotelier and former state Sen. Sue Lowden’s bid against Hutchison for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. And it pulls no punches.
[Note: Emphasis from original post.]
As a fellow survivor, I respect Collins’ ability and freedom to decide how and when (or if) to share her story with others. Regular Siren readers know that I have shared my own story of being a survivor of sexual assault when I testified in favor of changes to the statewide sex education standards. It is never easy to decide to speak publicly about being a survivor of sexual violence. Every time I do it, I face the trolls who will send me messages about how I deserved it — calling me a whore, or worse. It takes a kind of bravery that few non-survivors can ever understand to rise in the metaphorical town square and speak the truth in the light of day when we live in a culture determined to force our silence with figurative hands over our mouths.
There are those who dismiss women like Ms. Collins and me. They sense our rage as we share our stories and that rage makes us inconvenient. I understand Ms. Collins. I understand her deep desire to play out the what-if scenario — because I think we all do that. We all go over it so many time in our heads: what if I had stayed home; what if I hadn’t worn that; what if I had my gun. Common sense and our own intellect tell us how futile this what-if game is, but that’s just one of the hard parts of being a survivor. Somehow you have to not only get up and walk out of it, but you have to learn how to forgive yourself. (Because it’s really ourselves we blame, for not knowing better, acting differently, or just sensing the danger.) I’ve been there. We will never know if having access to her own gun on campus that night would have saved Amanda Collins from being raped. It’s possible she could have fired some warning shots but still gotten raped (maybe ending up with one of those 400,000 unprocessed rape kits collecting dust); shot him dead and faced a criminal justice system that puts assault victims on trial; or perhaps he would have turned the gun on her, which happens 4.5 times more often to gun-owners. There is just no way to ever know. And the not-knowing is maddening!
This experience has given Ms. Collins a cause she believes in. Ultimately, we are both survivors who are fighting to save others from our fate. And we are willing to fight in the visceral, disquieting way that survivors know instinctively. We fight from a bloody knuckled raw space, which can frighten people and which can sometimes render us unwittingly easy to exploit. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
Make no mistake, there is a power in speaking our truth and I would not deny that to any survivor, whether I agree with them politically or not. Just because we are both survivors doesn’t mean that Ms. Collins and I will see eye-to-eye politically or philosophically, but I will not stand in her way to speak her truth. And when she passionately testified for Assembly Bill 143 during the 2013 Legislature, you may recall I didn’t say anything. That’s because even though I disagree with her philosophy on guns, I respect her as I hope fellow survivors do me. (We’ll circle back around to the gun thing.) It doesn’t cost me anything to show even basic solidarity with a fellow survivor.
But I won’t profit from it. And neither should Sue Lowden.
So, let’s dig into why I find this latest campaign stunt from Sue Lowden so morally reprehensible. Let’s be really clear here about the difference between Amanda Collins’ motivations and Sue Lowden’s motivations. Amanda Collins is a sexual assault survivor who sees an opportunity to take another at-bat at getting a piece of legislation passed — the right to carry concealed weapons on college campuses — that she believes in (and possibly to back a candidate she believes in). And Collins is free to use her story however she sees fit. On the other hand, Sue Lowden gives zero fucks about concealed weapons on campuses — the fact that Lowden herself has a concealed weapons permit does not mean she backs them on campuses — or helping sexual assault survivors. (I found nothing that suggests Lowden spent any time in her one term in the State Senate to help rape survivors or fund prevention programs.) The only thing Lowden cares about here is herself, her campaign, and her dwindling war chest. (Need I remind you that Lowden is still making deals with creditors for failing to pay her bills from her last campaign?) This is the Chicken Lady’s attempt to not only toss a few, juicy, controversial red-herrings into the fray, but to gain some attention (and money?) while she’s at it. And she has proven herself willing to use similar tactics before. … I always forget, is Lowden pro-choice or anti-abortion? I can never remember, and maybe neither can she.
Just look at that letter again, toward the end, right before Collins urges you to get out your checkbook:
In fact, Sue has told me that even though the office of lieutenant governor probably won’t have anything officially to do with gun legislation (unless there’s a tie in the Senate) …
She’ll support the bill when it’s introduced again in 2015 …
She’ll testify in favor of it …
[Note: Ellipses from original.]
Gee, really? Lowden promised to testify for a bill in 2015? If that’s what the devil offered you to sell your story, Amanda, you got taken. If protecting people from the threat of sexual violence is, indeed, important to Sue Lowden, or, if expanding concealed weapon permit laws is important to Sue Lowden — where’s the promise for a bill? You do realize the LG office isn’t merely the tie-breaking President of the Senate. They have the power to draft three bills. If this issue is so deeply important to Sue Lowden that she is willing to prop herself up on the backs of sexual assault survivors to raise money for her campaign — where is the campaign promise for a bill if elected?
No, seriously: Where’s the campaign promise from Sue Lowden to draft a bill for concealed weapons on campuses?
This is about context and in this context Collins is not only be used, she’s being exploited. I can’t help wonder how long Lowden’s campaign henchmen had this letter in their back pocket? Is it just a coincidence that it drops a few days before Sexual Assault Awareness Month? Lowden is no more interested in helping survivors of sexual assault heal — or preventing sexual assault or the rape culture that enables it — than she was in making healthcare more affordable in her failed 2010
gubernatorial senatorial bid. This is a blatant money-grab by Lowden, playing on the sympathies of those who feel enraged by horrible stories like Collins’. Lowden is not working for a rape crisis center or rape prevention campaign. She isn’t trying to drum up support for a bill to hold rapists accountable. Sue Lowden is attempting to raise money on the back of a rape survivor — because Sue Lowden gives exactly zero fucks about anybody but herself.
And, finally, let’s take just a brief moment to address the whole gun thing — because people have already been foaming at the mouth at me on twitter because they think I’m some kind of anti-gun zealot. I grew up in Alaska in a family of hunters and fishers. My family have been in cattle ranching since Al Capone was ordering club sandwiches at my Great-Aunt Sophie’s cafe in Chicago (true story). Put simply: My philosophy on guns is that it is not just a right but a great responsibility and there are far too many feckless idiots who take no responsibility. I believe we need far more education about guns and responsible gun-ownership, because yes, I will go on blast about two-year-olds who accidentally kill their siblings because they are allowed to play with “toy” rifles that are left unlocked in a living room corner. You cannot convince me that is an example of responsible gun ownership. (Indeed, almost 200 children died from gun violence nationwide in the year following the mass school shooting in Sandy Hook.) While pro-gun folks like to say an armed citizenry is a safe one, gun violence statistics tell a very different story. When it comes to concealed weapons, I have grave reservations about their use in certain public settings, including schools (higher and lower), precisely because of situations like Amanda Collins’. Her attacker had a gun and went on to rape others — because 9 out of 10 college rapists are serial rapists. So, I see guns on college campuses as more enabling of a culture that turns a blind eye toward sexual assault prevention in the first place.
But all of this talk about gun rights and sexual assault survivorship are just red herrings!
This is no accident that now Lowden can stir up two groups who are generally at odds with each other to duke it out in social media wars, all the while ignoring the silent threat: Sue Lowden. (Count your lucky stars, Sue, that I didn’t go full-tilt and launch one of those social media wars. Because when I do, people respond.) Don’t be Sue’s patsy! Don’t fall for these spurious campaign grenades.
* People who have survived the brutality and trauma of sexual assault deserve the dignity of not being labeled victims.