By BORA ZALOSHNJA ’20
Clarence Thomas. Bill Clinton. Donald Trump. Anthony Weiner. These men ascribe to different political parties and have different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. They have been accused or found guilty of sexual misconduct or assault. For the most part though, they faced no consequences. Clarence Thomas still sits on the bench of the Supreme Court, Bill Clinton was impeached but then acquitted, and Donald Trump is to become our next president. Anthony Wiener is really the only one who saw any consequences, and they were minimal.
This begs the question; does the American political system take sexual misconduct seriously enough?
Even politicians who are lauded as champions of women’s rights in Washington can be criticized for their treatment of claims of sexual assault. Joe Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill, when he presided over the Clarence Thomas sexual assault hearings is a stain on his record. Since the hearings, he has done a lot for women, including writing the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and four reauthorizations of it. Nowadays, he and his staff upheld his image as a champion in Hill’s court case, but many remember how he grilled Hill, a respected law professor, on her sex life and failed to call three other witnesses who could have backed her testimony.
That does not even compare to how Donald Trump and his team treated sexual assault allegations. His campaign dismissed the almost 20 claims of assault or harassment with victim blaming or implying things like the women were too ugly for him to have assaulted them.
“I mean look at her. You tell me. I don’t think so,” said President-Elect Trump about the People reporter who claimed he propositioned her.
Americans spoke last Tuesday, and said they do not care about such behavior. Now, some argue a person’s political and private lives should be kept separate. One of France’s most loved presidents, Francois Mitterrand, carried on a very public 32-year affair, and for the most part, the French people did not care. His wife and mistress attended his funeral together, hand in hand, and no one batted an eye or let it stain his legacy as president.
This argument is flawed though, because infidelity and assault are entirely different things, and the latter should not be overlooked. Assault is a heinous criminal act. It is unacceptable for an American figurehead like the president or a Supreme Court justice to get away with it. The president in particular, as chief diplomat, represents this country to the rest of the world. Having an accused rapist as the American president is an embarrassment to this country and will make it harder for America to maintain the respect of the rest of the world.
This also communicates a message to Americans that men can get away with these crimes, especially if they have enough power and money. Unfortunately, the political world is not alone in sexual misconduct. Hollywood is also riddled with men who have mistreated women. Seeing powerful political men let off easy for rape and assault, only makes it easier to excuse other powerful male figures like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Mike Tyson, and Terry Richardson. Men like Chris Brown, John Lennon, and Bill Murray who have been accused of physically abused women also have very prominent and successful careers despite their alleged crimes.
This dismissal of crimes against women is not only a problem in politics. It tells survivors that coming forward with their experiences may not be worthwhile. This is why it is no surprise that sexual assault is the most underreported crime, with only 1 in 3 cases reported, according the RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization. Men in Hollywood and Washington are not the only ones getting away with these crimes though; RAINN reports that of every 1,000 rapes 994 perpetrators will walk free.
Assault and rape are problems everywhere, from college campuses to the White House. The only reason it may seem more prominent in public spheres like politics is because the media pays more attention when powerful and famous men are accused of rape. Because of this though, holding elected officials accountable for their actions is an important step in diminishing these crimes. If the most powerful men in this country are forced to pay for their crimes, it will send a message to everyone that crimes against women will not be tolerated.
The American people should not be content with being led by men who do not respect women or women’s rights. Other politicians should hold their colleagues accountable by using checks of power, such as impeachment. The treatment of these allegations has come a long way since the 1991 hearings of Clarence Thomas, but this country still has a long way to go.