As is the pattern with virtually everything
that gets caught up in the vortex of national politics, sexual misconduct is being exploited by people who see in it the prospect of gaining partisan advantage against their ideological opponents.
When revelations of abhorrent behavior emerge in the news cycle and onto social media – the warring camps line up to either accuse or defend almost strictly on the basis of whether the named offender belongs to one of the national parties or the other. With that, it is predictable that the subject will be handled as a weapon to be added to the political arsenal – instead of an opportunity to effect justice, healing and decent, respectful, ethical and equitable modes of conduct between humans. In other words, divisiveness trumps humanity.
Ironically, the very people that are waging verbal conflict instead of consensus building, are the persons most likely to try to convince you they really care the most about the problem and the victims of the problem. They don’t.
Sexual harassment is a real problem that is sadly being trivialized by a combination of two false equivalences. Number one is that harassment occupies the same space as molestation, assault or rape. Although all forms of intrusive and non-consensual behavior are deplorable – there are variances in the degree of harm caused. It has yet to be satisfactorily explained how a staged mock groping photo and a kiss that crossed boundaries during a skit (Senator Al Franken), can be equated with an adult male serially stalking and dating post-pubescent females, (Senate candidate Roy Moore).
It would be seem to be obviously unreasonable to equate a “hostile working environment” with actual physical touching – and physical touching with that of forceable rape. Harassment is egregious and undesirable – there can be no argument, although we’ve witnessed some bizarre, Alice in Wonderland types of rationalizations that attempt to make the predator the aggrieved party. In one instance, a minister in Greenville, South Carolina, Franklin Raddish, is saying that in many cases, the problem is not with males, but rather with aggressive females and that there is a “war on men” underway.
The conspiracy theories of reporting sexual abuse – “It’s just a political attack”
The second of these false equivalences is that all accusations and claims, ranging from conduct unbecoming and further up to and including sexual assault and rape – are accusations of opportunity.
Certainly it is not beyond the realm of possibility that some individuals will have motives to falsely report (which is statistically rare), but that is not the same thing as concluding that the claims must be false because they weren’t reported on an immediate basis. There are various and sundry factors that account for reporting on an extended timeline. The entire litany of those factors are beyond the scope of this commentary, but we can look at one that pertains to the Roy Moore debacle.
As one of the men who is at the center of the most recent controversies – Judge Roy Moore, candidate for the open Senate seat in Alabama, provides the prototype of the pushback against his accusers, when he says:
“To think grown women would wait 40 years before a general election to bring charges is unbelievable. Isn’t it strange after 40 years of constant investigation, that people have waited four weeks before a general election to bring their complaint? That’s not a coincidence.”
This, of course, was the very same line of argument employed by the defenders of Bill Cosby, when the first of many women he raped finally steeled herself to make her experiences known.
There can be little doubt that the young women that authentically were the subject of unwanted advances and touching from Judge Moore, took a look around at the lay of the land, and concluded – or their parents did, that the institutional structure was stacked against them.
In the case of Moore – he was a prominent man in state government with far ranging influence during the span of time when the offensive and possibly criminal behavior is said to have been committed and when, according to various reports, he displayed a known propensity to seek the company of females still generally considered to be minors.
The immunity of power in sexual misconduct
The power and influence of the offender is always taken into consideration when a decision is being made to report or not to report, especially if the consequences of doing so involve taking on the whole of the establishment structure that surrounds and shelters a public official.
The analog to the Roy Moore situation in that regard, was the near impossibility of putting a stop to the behavior of entertainment mogul, Harvey Weinstein. The reality of that is outlined in Jia Tolentino’s excellent piece in the New Yorker, titled, “Harvey Weinstein and the impunity of powerful men”. Ms. Tolentino sagely notes that:
For years—for centuries—the economic, physical, and cultural subjugation of women has registered as something like white noise. Lately, it appears that we’re starting to hear the tune. What had been a backdrop is now in the foreground; it has become a story with rotating protagonists which never seems to leave the news.
Until the report written by Ronan Farrow that broke the Weinstein story, the women he inflicted himself upon, remained in the shadows, apprehensive about the retribution Weinstein was fully capable of exacting against them if they spoke up. It was even recently learned that he had hired an investigation firm, Black Cube, run by former Israeli intelligence officers (Mossad), to collect discrediting and compromising information about his victims and the journalists who were speaking with them.
When we sum up the enormous and daunting intimidation and risks facing women who break their silence, it is not that difficult to imagine why the time gap between offense and reporting exists.
Yet another failure of logic regarding the reporting of sexual misconduct is to contend that anything short of actual eyewitnesses or documentation such as a video or audio recording of the act (i.e. direct evidence), means that nothing can be concluded about the claims of the alleged victim. That is far from the case in the criminal justice system.
Even absent direct evidence – someone witnessing the assault, other corroborating evidence may be assembled that demonstrates a pattern of behavior showing inclination to commit the act. A considerable body of such evidence has emerged regarding Roy Moore. Voters are more than entitled to take the cumulative fact pattern revealed about Moore’s sexual predilections into consideration at the ballot box.
Sexual abuse as political fodder
But the most distressing aspect of the social dynamic that has materialized alongside the revelations of sexual misconduct, is the weaponizing of them for political advantages. These incidents are being used as ammunition in proxy partisan battles. If you have any doubt regarding this, the next time you see someone remark that “Al Franken, has to go” – reply, “if Al Franken has to go, Donald Trump has to go with him”. The duplicity will be obvious with the response you get.
If Al Franken, who has forthrightly acknowledged the inappropriate nature of the photo prank involving Leeann Tweeden, was a Republican – the incident would be of zero consequence to many partisans on the right. The same is true with Roy Moore. If Moore were a Democrat, the “well, he hasn’t been convicted of anything” narrative would not have any currency. And conversely, there was not only a deafening silence from Democrats about Bill Clinton’s out of control behavior – there was a wall of denial and deflection surrounding it.
Once sexual harassment is viewed strictly through the lens of whether or not the guy “on my team did it” – we have cheapened the trauma that has actually been inflicted on women who either deserve apologies or legal justice, or simple acknowledgement of what they went though.
Thank goodness there wasn’t a political element to the child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church. The fact that many people were motivated to refuse to believe the atrocities for religious reasons, was bad enough. But now, just during the composition of this article, another Southern Baptist pastor has stepped forward with a novel defense of Roy Moore’s reputed behavior. Flip Benham of Concord, North Carolina stated in an interview that Moore’s motivation for zeroing in on young teens was,
“He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”
The calculus for too many people on whether a candidate or incumbent elected official is fit to hold office, is whether the person aligns with their ideological and partisan affiliation. The aggrieved parties to their crimes and indiscretions are just so much collateral damage.