Washington State is about to experience something of a replay of the Kavanaugh hearings that strained the entire nation earlier this year. Even if Sen. Joe Fain, R-Covington, survives the final vote count in his bid for re-election, he’s going to have to survive another vote in the state Senate – the fight he will face in the form of a partisan investigation will almost certainly be even tougher.
That’s because if Fain survives a close election, before he is seated, the Democrat-controlled Senate is planning to investigate curiously thin charges of rape hurled at him in the midst of this year’s campaign. After the investigation will come a vote, a march to a political decision about a serious matter that promises to have all the nastiness of the Kavanaugh confirmation debate, if not more. Yet, there is even less in the way of solid evidence to justify the Democratic inquisition into allegations against Fain then there was a basis for convening the epic Kavanaugh circus.
As evolved people, we’re capable of learning from our mistakes. It’s important to remember the lessons we learned from the destructive Kavanaugh confirmation debacle. Not only was a good man’s previously spotless reputation nearly ruined by a 35-year-old claim, the movement to treat women’s complaints of sexual abuse seriously was devastated as well. (This Tuesday’s results, including gains by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, may also indicate there were political costs as well.) In choosing to orchestrate the splashing of Dr. Blasey-Ford’s vague, unsubstantiated and unverified charge throughout the media, Democrats explicitly made the choice not to review her story quietly and judiciously. It turns out that tsunamis of salacious allegations create two very human responses.
First, despite the shockingly low credibility of the press, the general public is inclined to believe what it reads, especially if the depiction of alleged events is vivid and emotional. The Kavanaugh drama was a perfect example of that human impulse to believe details even without evidence they are true.
Second, in the case of Kavanaugh-Ford, the media side show of a political investigation induced several more dubious claims of sexual misconduct, at least two of which have been referred for perjury charges as the “victims” admitted they lied.
Women deserve a hearing of their claims of sexual abuse, but the hearing should not be in the form of sensational media headlines and reporting, as it was in the case of Kavanaugh-Ford. While many women do tell the truth, there are cases in which an accuser’s memory of events is subjective, or faulty, or even outright false and manufactured. Assuming all allegations are 100% true is a recipe for injustice, and paves a return path to witch trials in which accusations are all that are needed to proclaim guilt.
Thin, unsubstantiated accusations cheapen the important points brought forward by the #metoo movement. They can also destroy the reputations and lives of the targets when used for political expediency by the media. Fairness is the standard we should pursue, not political expediency or choosing the path of least resistance.
Where we find ourselves is in this now-familiar crucible. Fain, a prominent member of Senate Republican leadership, has been accused of rape by Candace Faber, an act she alleges took place in 2007 in a Washington, D.C. hotel room. Faber’s description of the events before and after the alleged crime are described in a 504-line poem that reads like a porn-laced romance epic. The encounter Faber describes sounds like a consensual college hookup, all except the part where she claims to have said “stop” during the act and she claims that Fain did not.
If any of it really happened the way she tells it—the fabulist tone of her accounting will cause some to speculate—even by her own telling, her signals were decidedly mixed. She describes how much she enjoyed the oral sex. She tells us she remained in his room afterward to help him pack his suitcase. She also reveals to us that as Fain was on his way out that she demanded that he give her a goodbye kiss.
Granted, as with many cases of sexual abuse, there is no way of knowing what really happened between two people in private. There is also the reality that sex, even consensual, is sometimes not so cut-and-dried an interaction. Yet there are many troubling aspects to Faber’s claim, conflicts that bear strong resemblance to the problems with Dr. Blasey-Ford’s account given during the Kavanaugh hearing. Again, if we’re going to have anything good come from the hell the country went through as a result of how badly the Kavanaugh hearings were conducted, that should begin by ensuring that both accused and accuser are given the same degree of scrutiny. Our standard should be fairness.
In the case of Faber, she spoke to no one for years after the alleged incident, until after Fain had become well-known. She did not, and has not, filed a police report or a civil claim; Faber has stated she has no intention of doing so. There is much to be skeptical about. Faber’s refusal to file a police report allows her to continue playing the victim without taking a risk. File a false police report and you can be prosecuted. Similar to Dr. Blasey-Ford, Faber is an active progressive who works against the opposing political party. Faber embraces theories of ‘identity politics,” and has decided she is a member of an “oppressed community” who must “claim authority over her own experience.” Faber believes the point of the social-justice movement is to “cause suffering” and force others to “feel our pain.” She has embraced being a member of the community of victims. It was later on Sept. 27, 2018, in the midst of the heated Kavanaugh hearings that Faber first made this claim public while commenting with a frenzy of over 45 tweets during the Kavanaugh hearing.
And while Joe Fain has a solid reputation and is a respected legislator, a look into Faber’s history reveals a troubled personality. In a blog post last July she described her hospitalization for psychosis – or as she describes it on Twitter, “severe mental illness.” She says she arrived at the hospital “babbling rapidly about robots and aliens and angels and voices.” She tells us her mental illness is a gift, and that it has given her powers and abilities beyond mere mortals.
“…I perceive systems as wholes and parts simultaneously; I see patterns of emotions and behavior; I can create spaces that allow more of reality to emerge and give it language that allows reality to be shared among people who might otherwise have different perspectives. I can zoom in and out, mapping workflows from beginning to end and surgically removing the blockers we didn’t notice from far away. …”
Looking at her tweets, this poor woman has also related a number of other sexual assaults. (Here, here, and here.) Any investigation must consider the possibility of conflation. It must also consider that a well-regarded senator’s public life could be ruined by an unprovable accusation whose truth can never be determined one way or another.
A Senate committee has voted to move forward with an outside investigator, which while prudent, is unlikely to provide any new insight. What is concerning are indications that Democratic leadership might use this allegation as a basis to refuse to seat Senator Fain even if he wins re-election. Unfortunately, the process of the Senate doesn’t require certainty or fairness, although voters can let them know that is the standard we want them to apply. Senate Democrats can choose to seat or not seat any member they wish. Politics, not proof, is what counts. It would be utterly wrong to refuse to learn from the Kavanaugh experience and use the existence of highly personal accusations for base political gain. In the rush to achieve political advantage, both Joe Fain and the #metoo movement end up losing.
Nansen Malin believes ‘we should all be feminists.’ She is a longtime advocate for women’s issues and has had a number of #metoo experiences.