“Graphic descriptions of violent rape may be triggering for survivors.”
A Seattle woman who last month spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a homeless man has faced backlash from progressive activists who worry her story could be “triggering” for the city.
The woman, identified only as Lindsey, told her story in a Facebook video, which made headlines after being released on April 22. According to her and Seattle police, she was raped last year in the restroom of a Volkswagen dealership in the city’s Ballard neighborhood.
“I didn’t want to die on a linoleum trailer bathroom floor,” she said in the video. “I didn’t want my story to end there. And I kept fighting.”
The suspect in the rape, Christopher Teel, 24, had been living in a city-funded homeless encampment despite having an outstanding warrant for his arrest in connection with another charge.
Lindsey made the video with help from Christopher Rufo, a former Seattle councilman who advocates the liberal city taking a hard line against to deal with its burgeoning homeless population. Last year, King County’s annual Count Us In survey found 12,112 people living on the streets or in shelters, an all-time high and about double the number of a decade ago.
“[Teel] was using public services to survive,” Lindsey said in the video. “I think we all need to acknowledge what we’re doing isn’t working. What we’re doing right now is actually harming us and we need strong leaders. And strong leaders, in my opinion, are out there.”
However, Seattle activists viewed Lindsey’s story as an attack on the city’s vulnerable homeless residents. Local journalist Erica Barnett accused Rufo and the media of using an “attractive blonde woman” to promote a false narrative that homeless people are a threat, when in fact they are “more likely to be victims.”
The agenda (Rufo's and KIRO's) is to create a false link between a policy—"allowing" homeless people to live outside of government camps or jails—and rape of a (not coincidentally) attractive, blonde woman, who could be "your" daughter, sister, cousin.
— Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett) April 23, 2019
She also complained that “graphic descriptions of violent rape may be triggering for survivors.”
Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez agreed, claiming that Lindsey’s story could “‘create fear’ in communities “that may already be triggered.”
When reporting on #sexual #assault and #violence, “The responsibility of the media is to ask what does this illustrate and what solutions does this point to?” says @ericacbarnett. And to “not sensationalize or create fear” in communities that may already be triggered. #SAAM
— Councilmember M. Lorena González (@CMLGonzalez) April 24, 2019
In a blog post published Friday, Rufo responded to his critics by excoriating “Seattle’s activist class,” which he said seems “to have more compassion for transient criminals than for the victims of their crimes.”
“Lindsey’s story should be a clarion call for everyone who cares about violence against women,” he continued. “But in the tortured logic of intersectionality, the story of a homeless rapist demands ‘context,’ while the white, blonde, middle-class target of his assault is an unsympathetic victim.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan did not respond to local TV station Kiro 7’s question about whether she would consider implementing background checks at city-sanctioned encampments. But her office issued a statement saying: “Mayor Durkan commends the courage of a survivor of sexual violence to speak out. Ballard is and continues to be one of the focus areas for increased visibility and enforcement by SPD. Ballard has seen increased patrols and officer generated calls.”
Homeless populations have been on the rise in cities across the country, driven by rising housing costs and slow wage growth. Officials have struggled to respond. At least 10 cities on the West Coast have already declared states of emergency.