Sen. Coons: “Whatever comes out of this week, whatever comes out of the proceedings of this floor today and tomorrow and this weekend, we must listen and recognize that hundreds of thousands of American women and men have been victims, are victims, will be victims of sexual assault.”
Sen. Coons: “Our country is watching. This is a moment where the Senate as an institution and the country as a whole needs to show we can and will do better. And I hope we will listen.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor. The video of Senator Coons’ remarks is available here.
“If I could make one request, it would be that we come out on the other side of these last few weeks with an awareness of those who are in silent and deep and lonely pain often right next to us, all around us in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces and in our communities. And that we give them the listening, the understanding, and the embrace to help them heal,” said Senator Coons.
Senator Coons’ floor speech, as delivered, is below:
Mr. President, it was a week ago today that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on which I serve were riveted by the compelling and powerful testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It is a week ago today that Judge Brett Kavanaugh delivered his forceful rejoinder and rebuttal. Today I want to take a moment and share with members of this chamber and folks who may be watching something else that was happening during that entire hearing that I did not expect that was powerful and unique and special in my experience as a public servant and that I've heard as I've listened to other senators of both parties who were present and who I've talked to afterwards. It was their experience as well. This conversation is bigger. It's bigger. It's more pressing. And I'd say it's more important than the question of one Supreme Court seat and one current nominee. This is a question about whether we as a country at the highest levels of power believe victims and survivors of sexual assault and are willing to listen to them, to believe them, and to take action.
So, what was it that happened last Thursday? As I tried to pay attention to the remarkable testimony of Dr. Ford, my phone was blowing up. I got texts. I got instant messages. I got phone calls. I got emails. I got Facebook posts. I got messages from more ways that you could connect with me than I knew were possible. And these were stories. Powerful stories. Stories that friends of mine, people I've known for years or decades, people I barely know, or people I hope to get to meet. They were sharing with me stories of assault. They were told by classmates, neighbors, friends, constituents, people who had carried these burdens alone for years. These stories are difficult to hear, but important that they be heard. It is important to understanding why survivors stay silent. And it's important to understanding why we as a body and a nation must get this moment right. Important to understanding why the President and others are wrong when they say that if a victim's allegations are true, she would have filed a report or come forward decades ago.
In response to the question, "Why didn't Dr. Christine Blasey Ford come forward earlier?" I have just this experience to share: that the texts and emails, the conversations in person and over the phone with friends I've known for so long and friends I've just met, make it powerfully clear to me that the many ways in which assault and violation happens in our country between people have as many different reasons why they hide them, carry them, and keep them in darkness, in quiet, and in shame. And each one of those stories reminds me even more powerfully the reasons we must, we must demonstrate that they are heard.
One friend from Delaware, a cancer survivor, someone I've spoken about on this floor before because of her survival of a nearly life-ending cancer, she confided in me she was terrorized and raped as a small child. Living with the effects of that experience, she said, has been way harder than cancer. She said to me early childhood trauma can be mercy and difficult to describe and doesn't lend itself easily to a court room narrative understanding. She is right.
A male friend, someone I know from high school, shared with me an experience he had during a spring break trip. Shared how on a biology field trip to Mexico when he sought help from the trip organizer after snorkeling fins blistering his ankles after administering first aid in the hotel room, he was assaulted. And his comment was he was too shocked to call for help and did not tell anyone for over three decades.
You know, he is right. She is right. They are not alone. Today I want to share a few more stories shared over the last weeks by brave men and women shining light on the challenges, the fear, the shame, and the anger surrounding sexual assault. This is under the #WhyIDidntReport and I think it helps lend some understanding to the dynamics of surviving assault.
Under #WhyIDidntReport, "I had known him for years," one victim said. "Why I didn't report? Because he was sorry. Because I was drunk. Because I was young and ashamed and felt like I had somehow asked for it even though I had said ‘no’ and ‘stop.’ Because even typing this makes me feel it all again."
Another in response to this hashtag said, "Because my counselor said they won't believe you because you're not a pretty girl."
Another said, "I blamed myself. I was humiliated and hurt. I thought they were my friends. I felt safe until I wasn't and then it was too late. I wanted to wash it away and never think about it again."
Another said, "Because I feel ashamed of what happened and didn't want to publicly ruin someone's life even though they privately ruined mine."
"Because he was my boyfriend and I was sleeping. He told me he had been accused of this before and it wasn't rape because we were dating."
Another victim posted, "My mom did report my 18-year-old cousin when I was nine. I had to testify sitting across the table from him. I froze. I cried. I couldn't speak. All charges were dropped."
And earlier this week at a town hall in Delaware, the Delaware City Fire Company. Someone I've known for decades got out of her car, came up to me, gave me a huge hug and weeping said, "I never told my husband. I never told my son. And today I have." And in her voice, there was both heavy emotion and an enormous sense of relief. And I have to say for me, a sense of great pain that I was wishing I could do nothing except sit and listen, to honor her story, to provide some sense of comfort and support and recognition and yet had to move on to the town hall after a few moments.
At a dinner here in Washington just last night, someone shared with me an amazing story of her daughter's suffering. And to hear a story of that power and pain in the midst of a social setting is both wonderful in that they are trusting with a story that they have held onto for so long and terrible in that it is a reminder of the ways in which we speak to each other of surviving assault in hushed tones and in dark corners and on the internet and anonymously.
Whatever comes out of this week, whatever comes out of the proceedings of this floor today and tomorrow and this weekend, we must listen and recognize that hundreds of thousands of American women and men have been victims, are victims, will be victims of sexual assault. And according to our Department of Justice, at least two thirds have never reported it. There is an ocean of pain in this nation not yet fully heard, not yet appropriately resolved, not yet fully addressed. And everyone, everyone, everyone within earshot of my voice, the women and men in this chamber, the staff, journalists, colleagues, friends, members of the public, those who think Brett Kavanaugh should be a Supreme Court Justice and those who do not, those who have either themselves been victimized by assault or know someone, a loved one, a family member, a neighbor, a classmate, a fellow parishioner, a colleague or a friend, we all, all have an opportunity here. A moment to make it clear that we welcome and will respect and listen to and act on stories that have been and will be shared with us. And that we will act.
If I could make one request, it would be that we come out on the other side of these last few weeks with an awareness of those who are in silent and deep and lonely pain often right next to us, all around us in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces and in our communities. And that we give them the listening, the understanding, and the embrace to help them heal.
You know in today's hyper-partisan environment where we are quick to question motives of others and search for any excuse to discredit or devalue and doubt. I also wanted to add one small, but I think important point. Every victim who has spoken to me in the past week, they were not looking for anything. They were not looking for a settlement. They were not looking for some lawsuit. They were simply looking for acknowledgment. They were looking to share something they've carried too long alone. They just wanted to be heard.
Our country is watching. This is a moment where the Senate as an institution and the country as a whole needs to show we can and will do better. And I hope we will listen. That we will listen as we continue to move forward important legislation. The Violence Against Women Act, which my predecessor then-Senator Biden helped champion in a bipartisan way over several congresses. The Victims Against Child Abuse Act, which even now I am working with a bipartisan team to try and get through this chamber to be reauthorized. There are many more things we can and should do to work to combat sexual abuse, sexual assault, and to help prevent and heal.
But what I most wanted to say today, to the friends and the acquaintances, to my constituents and my community, to my nation and the world that may well be watching this moment in the United States, to those whose stories I have just shared and whose stories I have just heard, I simply wanted to say this. You have touched my heart deeply. I hear you. And I thank you.
With that Mr. President, I yield the floor.