In the next two weeks, the US Senate will make a decision regarding the Biden administration’s nomination of Michael A. Delaney to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing last week, I was compelled to send a letter stating why Delaney should not be considered for a lifetime appointment as a judge. I spoke with the Department of Justice weeks ago to inform them of my experiences with Delaney. When his nomination was announced, I felt defeated. It seems the White House heard my concerns and deemed them unimportant.
Delaney represented St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., in a lawsuit my family filed against the school after I was sexually assaulted by another student in a ritual called the “Senior Salute.” In an attempt to intimidate me, Delaney filed a motion to strip me, then 16, of my anonymity if my supporters continued to make public statements about the case. Instead, I came forward with my name and story. Because of his actions, I lost the privilege of privacy.
Before I came forward, my name appeared on websites that exist to out and threaten sexual assault survivors. My family’s home address, phone numbers, and pictures of my parents, sisters, and friends stolen from my private Instagram were posted to these hate sites. Anonymous commenters posted death threats and pictures of our home. They used racial slurs against my half-Japanese Dad and threatened to show me “what real rape looks like when [I] get to college.” They used our family e-mail address in Craigslist ads for sex acts. This was the result of my loss of privacy. This is what Delaney felt was “fair” to expose me and my family to when filing a motion to strip my anonymity.
Biden’s nomination as well as the nominee’s support from Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire show me and other survivors that they approve of what Delaney and St. Paul’s School put me and my family through, which is far from my initial impression of their values.
Four months after I was assaulted in 2014, the Obama-Biden White House launched It’s On Us, inspiring me to continue my pursuit of justice and cofound the nonprofit I Have The Right To.
In 2017, I joined a student conference call with organization leaders and special guest, then vice president Joe Biden, to discuss campus sexual assault. I felt honored to witness this important conversation with one of my political heroes. Today, I am reminded that actions speak louder than words. Biden’s nomination of Delaney directly contradicts the mission of It’s On Us and the sentiments he expressed on that call.
Supporting survivors cannot be a partisan issue. Shaheen amplified this point on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault, stating, “It’s incumbent on all of us to not deepen those scars by diminishing the pain of these women as political theater. This is not political theater, and it should not be viewed through a partisan lens.”
I agree with Shaheen and ask her to consider the scars she deepens by supporting Delaney’s nomination. As I wrote in my letter to the committee, the justice system must serve all involved in court proceedings — the victim/complainant and defendant/institution. An attorney who practices victim intimidation does nothing for the greater good; he stands in the way of justice and keeps the community in a toxic cycle of harm and silence.
The impact of inaction is overwhelming. Hassan witnessed this firsthand. As principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, Tom Hassan, the senator’s husband, was censured by The Association of Boarding Schools for failing to disclose that a teacher nominated for a prestigious award had admitted to multiple instances of sexual misconduct with students. Tom Hassan blamed this omission on his attempt “to balance the privacy and wishes of the victim with the utmost need to ensure the safety of members of the community.”
Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said of Exeter’s lack of transparency, “It’s hard to imagine how the victim’s privacy would have been compromised by providing more complete information about the offender in this case. It’s wonderful that the school wanted to protect the victim’s privacy, but that can’t be used as a shield against their obligation to inform their community about the offender that’s in their midst.” Schollett and Tom Hassan are both right: Privacy is extremely important to sexual assault victims. But in this instance, “privacy” was deployed as an excuse for inaction.
The legal system is already stacked against sexual assault survivors. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free, according to RAINN. Nine of the 11 Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, senators I admire greatly, failed to show up for the hearing last week. On that day they failed to show up for victims and survivors in the capacity that so many of those senators have promised with their words. Now more than ever, it’s time for action. Michael Delaney’s nomination must be withdrawn and the White House needs to follow through on its pledge to support survivors.
Chessy Prout is an author and cofounder of IHaveTheRightTo.org.