Sexual Assault

Kirsten Gillibrand Offers Justin Fairfax's Accuser 'Support' Rather Than 'Belief'

"I support Dr. Tyson... We have to support survivors first so their claims can be fully investigated."


Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand (D­–N.Y.), one of several contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax (D), who stands accused of sexually assaulting a woman named Vanessa Tyson in 2004. Gillibrand tweeted:

Note Gillibrand's caution: She leaves room for the possibility of doubt, or for an investigation to reach a different conclusion. She offers Tyson "support." Not belief.

This is a bit out of character. In other tweets about various sexual misconduct accusations, Gillibrand has offered not just support for the alleged victims but a kind of faith that they are telling the truth—and an insistence that everyone else do likewise. She has repeatedly stated that we must "believe women." Here are just a few examples:

In fact, immediately following her tweet about Fairfax, Gillibrand lamented that we generally do not believe survivors:

Gillibrand is correct about the Fairfax situation: Offering support for purported victims of sexual misconduct is the right thing to do, and should be noncontroversial. Everyone should take their claims seriously, show them respect, and refrain from ignoring or dismissing them out of hand. Many survivors' advocacy groups are not satisfied with mere support, of course. They proceed from the flawed notion that there are virtually no false accusations of sexual assault, and insist that victims should automatically be believed. This is a far less reasonable proposition, and one that has made the adjudication of sexual misconduct—particularly on college campuses—more prone to overreach.

What I'd like to know from Gillibrand: Does she stand by her insistence that we believe every accusation, or is her position now that we support accusers while their claims are investigated? Because those are two very different things.