Why politicians get away with sexual misconduct

In the aftermath of the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein scandal, what is being called the “post-Weinstein era,” many people now feel empowered to air allegations of sexual misconduct against figures they once thought were too powerful to fall. Knowing that no public figure is immune to repercussions has created an atmosphere of semi-comfort and camaraderie for victims of sexual misconduct.

After Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was revealed, over 30 men have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, some of whom are politicians. Whereas pre-Weinstein allegations of sexual misconduct were suppressed, they are now being taken seriously. By and large, when a public figure is accused of sexual misconduct post-Weinstein, their careers are sent into a tailspin. Conversely, when a politician is accused, the majority of voters and peers continue their support.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was accused by Leeann Tweeden of forcibly kissing and groping her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour of the Middle East. After Tweeden publicly accused Franken, other women accused him of groping. Franken has publicly apologized but not taken full responsibility for these actions.

“From these stories, it’s been clear that there are some women — and one is too many — who feel that I have done something disrespectful or have hurt them,” he said when asked about the allegations.

Franken has not faced any formal repercussions because of the allegations. Although his case has been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee, Franken has appeared composed and confident that the ruling will not negatively impact his political career.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was accused by multiple former staffers of sexual assault, mainly unwanted touching and unwelcome sexual advances. Amid these accusations Conyers has defended his innocence. His attorney, Arnold Reed, said that Conyers “maintains that he has not done anything wrong.”

“I expressly and vehemently denied the allegations made against me, and continue to do so,” Conyers said in a statement.

Conyers has temporarily stepped down from his role as a top ranking Democrat in the House Judiciary Committee while he is undergoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee. It needs to be acknowledged that Conyers believes he will eventually be deemed innocent and be able to resume his service.

The list does not stop there. Recently Roy Moore, a Republican senatorial candidate in the state of Alabama, was accused by five women of sexual assault when they were underage. In a statement from his campaign, Moore called the report a “completely false and desperate political attack” from liberal opponents.

Donald Trump, the president and leader of the GOP, defended Moore when he said, “[Moore] says it didn’t happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.” Trump continued to make clear that his defense was only for the furthering of the GOP when asked about the allegations against Franken.

“As far as Al Franken is concerned, he’s going to have to speak for himself,” he said.

Trump’s defense of Moore and abandonment of Franken show that defense of politicians accused of sexual misconduct is dependent on their party. Trump has insinuated that he would rather have a Republican accused five times of sexual assault in Congress than a Democrat.

When asked whether he would still support Moore, Trump did not give a direct answer. But when asked if the public should vote for Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, he was explicit.

“I can tell you for a fact that we do not need somebody that’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the second amendment,” said Trump.

The continued conservative allegiance to Moore is evidence that the same rules do not apply to politicians and public figures. The careers of most public figures accused of sexual misconduct post-Weinstein are plummeting. Politicians seem to receive only a stern slap on the hand before the public moves on, sans-punishment.

Louis C.K. and Moore were accused of sexual assault on the same day, each by five women. The accusations led to drastically different results. Most media companies cut ties with C.K., and his movie release has been cancelled. While the Republican National Committee revoked funding for Moore’s campaign, he has received little punishment otherwise. Moore has refused to resign from the election, and many have excused his actions as they occurred decades ago. A JMC analytics poll found that 29 percent of Alabamians were more likely to vote for Moore after the allegations against him were made public.

The continued support for Moore is evidence of a frightening norm. The majority of Americans detest sexual misconduct but make an exception when politics are involved. Given the choice between voting for an accused sexual predator in their party or a candidate outside of it, Americans typically opt to vote within party.

It is important to note that this was the norm pre-Weinstein as well. In recent cases, notably Bill Clinton and Trump, exceptionalism for politicians has been used.

When Clinton was accused by Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Wiley of sexual misconduct, Democrats largely defended him. Although there was mass public scrutiny and condemnation, many Democrats argued that his actions were not a reason for removal from office or legal penalties. During Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, he was never charged with sexual misconduct violations.

Our most recent presidential election was riddled with allegations against Trump of sexual misconduct. The majority of these involved groping and non-consensual kissing. Most of these allegations were reported after a recording from 2005 surfaced in which Trump remarked that because of his position of power he could “just start kissing [women]” and “grab ‘em by the pussy.”

Trump denied the claims and even announced he would sue the women who made them. Trump faced no consequences, other than public outcry. In spite of America’s condemnation of his supposed actions he was still elected president.

Photo courtesy of TIME. 

Savannah Hawley

Savannah Hawley is the Managing Editor and Chief Copy Editor of The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: Literature & Theory and French.

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