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Barbershop: After Sexual Assault Allegations, What Should Moving Forward Look Like?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to continue this conversation about what's next in the #MeToo movement as we step into the Barbershop. Now, that's where we invite interesting people to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. We want to continue the conversation that we and many others have been having about what happens or what should happen after allegations of sexual misconduct - especially allegations that don't fall neatly into the purview of law enforcement or an HR department. And a specific prompt for this conversation is the Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who was accused earlier this month by two different women of assaulting them on two different occasions, albeit many years ago.

Now, Fairfax is a Democrat, and Republicans have invited his two accusers to testify after calling for his resignation. Statehouse Democrats object, saying this is a political show. Fairfax says that law enforcement or neutral investigations should be involved. And some are asking if there is another way. Now, a group of 100 African-American women published an open letter last week that reads in part, "we strongly believe that every woman who is brave enough to come forward with allegation of sexual assault should be heard, respected and have their allegations taken seriously" - unquote. But it also goes on to say, we are uniquely familiar with the far-reaching dangers of rushing to judgment that we cannot merely stand by now and allow allegations that have not been investigated be used to justify the destruction of a person's professional career and personal reputation.

So two of the women who signed that letter are with me now. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and president emerita of Bennett College, which is one of the two historically black colleges for women in the U.S. She's here with me in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for coming.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Melanie Campbell is the president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. And she's with us from New Orleans.

Melanie Campbell, thank you so much as well.

MELANIE CAMPBELL: Thank you. Good to be here.

MARTIN: So you're...

CAMPBELL: (Unintelligible).

MALVEAUX: OK, Melanie.

MARTIN: So you're both obviously uncomfortable with how this is unfolding. So Julianne, as briefly as you can, tell me, what is it specifically that bothers you about the way these stories are - particularly this one - is unfolding?

MALVEAUX: The timing, I think, is the most unfortunate thing. You do want to believe the women, of course, but you can't believe all the women. I'm not casting any shade on these women, but I'd like to see an investigation - not a Republican-orchestrated circus, but an investigation. You can - Bob Johnson actually offered $150,000, and he said the parties can choose a law firm or investigators of their own choice.

MARTIN: Bob Johnson, the co-founder of BET.

MALVEAUX: A hundred fifty grand. Dr. Tyson has said no, she doesn't want to do that. She wants to talk to the legislature. The other woman, Ms. Weaver (ph), has said pretty much the same thing. Well, come on. If - an investigation is the only way to be fair to everyone. A legal investigation is the only way to be fair - just to set up and to air allegations.

We saw how that worked out with Christine Blasey Ford. She basically was treated poorly, I think, by the Republicans. But, you know, Kavanaugh's people probably say he was treated poorly as well. But she just had a he said, she said kind of thing. We need to have an investigation. There've been allegations about emails that had been passed back and forth. You can check that out.

MARTIN: Melanie Campbell, there are those who would argue that the - part of the reason that you're taking this stance is that Justin Fairfax is a Democrat and a progressive and that perhaps there wouldn't be the same approach if this - if he were - had a different political persuasion. And what do you say to that?

CAMPBELL: Well, I say they don't know what they're talking about because they don't know me. But I live in Virginia. I vote in Virginia, right? My party affiliation has nothing to do with it. People know (unintelligible) the Democratic Party all the time. So it's not about the party. It's about being able to say that we cannot have justice by tweet or justice...

MALVEAUX: Hello.

CAMPBELL: ...Enough Facebook postings and what people are saying online as that's part of justice. As black people in this country, you know, I don't judge Justin Fairfax, Ms. Tyson or Ms. Watson. They all have a right to due process. You cannot ignore, though - I totally agree with Julianne - how this even started is very political, right? And so the history for black people, whether as a black woman who's not believed, right, and a black man who, if you looked the wrong way, you know, look at it. And, of course, those were racial. But it's still about justice and going through a process.

And I've had - that that's been my one consolation. I've been sexually assaulted in my life. And so it's not something I talk about a lot, but I'm saying - and - I'm not - and every woman who's gone through something has a right to be heard. And also, if I say you did it, then I know I have - there has to be some judicial system, as flawed as it is, that goes through the process legally to deal with that charge. Otherwise, if you - if people, like, jumping up and saying, OK. You know, it's got to be true. No, it has to be investigated.

MARTIN: So in the time...

CAMPBELL: And it does not need to be investigated, you know, in a partisan manner. It does need to be investigated in a way that law enforcement can check these things out...

MARTIN: So...

CAMPBELL: ...And check these stories out.

MARTIN: So we've got about three minutes left. I wanted to hear from each of you for that. And you both raise a number of important issues. You've both talked about the fact that - and frankly, one of the reasons we called both of you is that this is personal for both of you. I mean, Julianne Malveaux, you've been the president of a women's college. You've surely counseled many women...

MALVEAUX: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Who've had this experience. And Melanie Campbell, as you've just told us, you've experienced this, unfortunately, yourself. And then there's this very ugly history of black women being assaulted without consequence and of black men being falsely accused. So in the time that we have left - and unfortunately, it's not enough time for this next topic - Julianne, I'll start with you. What should fairness look like?

MALVEAUX: Fairness should look like an investigation. The statute of limitations for rape is still not over in Massachusetts. Dr. Tyson can still bring rape charges. Duke University is looking into the allegations that Ms. Meredith - I got her last name wrong last time - Watson, the allegations that she's raised. She's apparently raised allegations also against a basketball player who was a Duke student as well. Duke cannot afford to have egg on their face on this, so they're going to be investigating as well. If there is a paper trail, we have the technology to go back and see, were there emails exchanged? What happened? And so I think that the investigation is the only way to go forward.

Now, this situation, Michel, breaks my heart. I had the opportunity to meet Justin Fairfax actually on the street at UDC a few months ago, had a very convivial conversation with him. You know, and I'm an elder, and he gave me all those elder props, and I love that when younger people do that. But I had a good good feeling about him. So this just breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to think about black women feeling that they're not being believed. But we have to look into it.

MARTIN: And, Melanie Campbell, what do you think fairness looks like?

CAMPBELL: Fairness - the same thing. He's just the investigation. Do it in a way that it's not a kangaroo court. Do it in a way that allows for - that's why we said it - stated this letter the way we did. We - consternation in even doing it but felt, knowing that the way some of this stuff is going in this new time we're in, to try to voice, to say, we have to use due process because otherwise, we're going to have a situation where people will lose their livelihoods, whether it be the woman who's making a charge or the man's being charged or whatever it is. It's like it's just - we cannot have some of the ways that things are being done where people - and then I heard someone earlier on your show, Lisa Borders, you know, who had stepped down, you know, from Time's Up, and I guess it was, you know, her choice.

MARTIN: Sure.

CAMPBELL: And just being able to see all these things happening. And hopefully, she'd stepped down because she wanted to step down as opposed to her then having to step down...

MARTIN: OK.

CAMPBELL: ...Because of something someone may or may not have done.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. That's Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Julianne Malveaux, president emerita of Bennett College.

Thank you both so much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

CAMPBELL: Thank you so much. Bye-bye. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.