Al Franken Resigns: Democrats Fail the GOP Sexual Harassment Test. Again.
The Republican party is aggressively testing their abilities to pick off Democratic Congressmen with claims of sexual misconduct while simultaneously blazing a trail for a known child molester to take a Senate seat.
The Democrats, in response, are letting them.
Correction: The Democrats are doing more work to allow the Republican party to unseat their House and Senate leaders than they are doing to get their own Democratic candidates elected. Rather than defend Al Franken and his Senate seat from GOP attacks, they joined in. Rather than clarify the boundaries between false accusations and true trauma, they further blurred the lines between acceptable behavior and criminal behavior for political gain. Rather than defend women and their own party from attacks by pussy grabbers and pedophiles, they are leaving us on the political battleground to assert superiority on the moral highground.
It is completely inexplicable.
The Democratic strategy to eat their own no matter what the accusation, no matter how little evidence is presented, and no matter who calls for removal could not be more harmful to women, the Democratic Party or the nation.
Not only does this strategy leave Senates seats in dangers of Republican predation, but it puts the hundreds of millions of women that live in the United States in danger by threatening to irreparably push the balance of power in the Senate even farther to the right.
If the Democrats continue to allow the Republican Party to dictate who occupies their Senate seats, the balance of power in Congress and its subcommittees could be dramatically altered. And if the Democrats refuse to come up with a consistent strategy to counter attacks on their Congressmen that are launched under the guise of sexual misconduct, there is no reason to believe that the Republicans won’t continue to redesign Congress by weaponizing accusations of sexual harassment and assault.
We can do better. We need to do better. And we need to start now before the Democrats lose one more battle for a senate seat in the political field so they can occupy a high horse on an ass backwards moral high ground.
The following is a series of questions that can be used to navigate claims of sexual harassment and assault in light of the current attack on Democratic Congressmen being launched by the Republican Party. They are designed to be used to make a informed decisions — not kneejerk decisions — when being asked to support the removal of a Democratic member of Congress. We might not all come to the same conclusions, but we can at the very least have more strategic dialogues if we share a common decision making process.
Q1. Are you receiving the information directly from an accuser or through a political filter?
If someone is personally telling you that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, it is your responsibility as a human being to help them find the personal, social and legal resources to heal and find whatever form of justice is most appropriate for them. Period. You are not judge. You are not jury. You are not executioner. If someone has come to you to ask for help and you turn them away, you are a really horrible individual.
But an accusation navigated by two private individuals is very different than accusations presented in a political arena. In fact, they are not the same at all.
If accusations of harassment or assault are presented to you through a political channel, you are being asked to engage in a political action. You are not being asked to provide support directly to a victim. Political actions have ramifications that extend beyond the personal and into an area where millions upon millions of lives will be affected. As a result, a more textured and critical analysis is required.
Q2. Is there a crime even involved?
Not all sexual behaviors are crimes.
Sexual behavior is a normal part of everyday society. It is healthy. It should be expected. It should be celebrated. And it should be protected. Forms of sexual expression vary across cultures and between people. It is a natural part of our development as humans. It is a vital part of our survival as a species and it is a generally pretty awesome part of life. Not all of the time, granted. But most of the time.
Sometimes it is awkward. Sometimes it is unsolicited. Sometimes it is uncomfortable. And especially in a misogynistic society — sometimes it is downright offensive. But that’s OK. It’s normal. And nothing is wrong with that. To a point.
There is a difference between sexualized behavior, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. These distinctions are very important both legally and in terms of necessary support for the accuser. Sexual harassment and sexual assault involve characteristics that normal sexual behavior does not. These characteristics specifically are: violence, coercion, and intimidation.
If we don’t know what we’re talking about, we can’t make substantive decisions. In order to make salient political decisions on accusations against our Representatives, we need to know what is and isn’t a crime, as well as the differences between sexual harassment and sexual assault.
If the advances are welcome, have no effect on conditions of employment, do not affect workplace decisions regarding the accuser, or does not alter the ability of the accuser to do their job — then there is no basis for a claim of sexual harassment. Whether or not an individual agrees with that definition is another thing, but the definition remains the same nonetheless. As such, sexual behavior is allowed in the workplace. There are very specific instances regarding when that behavior becomes criminal. If we are making accusations of criminality, it is irresponsible not to be clear on these terms.
It is also irresponsible to conflate harassment with assault. They are also not the same in terms of the support that would need to be provided to the accuser interpersonally and the actions that could be taken legally.
Sexual Assault and Rape
Sexual assault and rape are two categories of criminal sexual violence. They are both defined differently and carry separate standards for penalties, but both terms are rooted in the definition of a criminal “sexual act” which is defined as:
“(A) contact between the penis and the vulva or anus or mouth, and for purposes of this subparagraph contact involving the penis occurs upon penetration, however slight; or (B)the penetration, however slight, of the vulva or anus or mouth, of another by any part of the body or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”
The boundaries between legal sexual behavior, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are not unclear, but political actors often attempt to blur these lines in order to persuade certain sectors of the public to take political action. Being clear on these distinctions empowers us to avoid falling prey to deceptive tactics in order to make stronger political decisions.
Q3. Where is the accusation coming from on the political spectrum?
There are a number of people that would like to tell you that sexual harassment and sexual assault is an issue that extends beyond politics. They would like to tell you that sexual violence is not a Republican issue and it is not a Democratic issue. They would like to tell you that left and right have nothing to do with it. Whether these individuals and communities are lying or misinformed, they are wrong.
Because you are being called upon to take political action, and not interpersonal action, the context must be the cornerstone of a sound decision regarding sexual accusations presented through a political filter. You are not being asked to provide interpersonal support to a survivor. You are not being asked to identify the moral high ground. You are being asked to make a political decision in a political context that has political consequences.
Yes, sexual violence and sexual assault happens on both sides of the aisle. But this is not an interpersonal discussion. This is a political discussion.
Politically, Liberals and Conservatives approach sexual issues very differently. They have different stances on women’s rights, women’s protections, the protection of free sexual expression, the criminalization of sexual behavior and how to legislatively engage with each. How each party approaches harassment and assault is no exception.
The Republican Party currently houses a white nationalist agenda. The Democratic Party doesn’t. The Republican Party currently houses and anti-LGBTQ agenda. The Democratic Party Doesn’t. The Republican Party is currently housing an anti-healthcare agenda. The Democratic Party isn’t. The nation is historically polarized on every political and social issue we face as a nation. Women’s rights are no exception.
As part of their active party agenda, Republicans have actively identified protections, programs and rights provided to women by the federal government and then systematically targeted, repealed, revoked or reduced them. These revocations and rollbacks include Title IX protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses and the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workspaces Act. The former places the rights of the accused over the rights of the victimized while the latter allows companies to hide previous accusation of discrimination, harassment, and assault in the workplace from the courts and the public.
The Democrats, however weakly, stand in opposition to these maneuvers.
In terms of how their own party approaches sexual assault, the Republican Party openly denounce and counter-attack those that come forward with accusations against fellow Conservatives, aggressively support those making accusations against their political opponents, and mock the severity of criminal sexual behavior in their political culture. They often call for political action, legal prosecution and formal investigations against those accused; however, those calls are weaponized to be used against their opponents.
The Democrats under the current administration have accepted calls for investigations into members of their own party, called for members of their own party to resign from office for substantiated and unsubstantiated accusations, and do not promote sexual assault as an acceptable practice.
The Republican Party has currently doubled down on their support for accused child molester and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore. They have consistently referred to admissions of sexual assault from their own party as “locker room talk,” and their Commander in Chief is on record bragging:
“Yeah that’s her with the gold. I better use some Tic-Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
There is little evidence to support the claim that protecting women and prosecuting predators is a priority for them. In fact, all evidence points to the Republican Party encouraging social behavior and legislation that promotes rape culture and allows predators to roam free. This suggests that any attempt to use women’s rights in the political space should be placed under the highest levels of scrutiny.
Q4. Are political tricks being used?
If an accusation of sexual abuse is true in intent, discussion will generally focus on the well-being of the victim(s), the tangible evidence surrounding the accusation and an evaluation of the legal steps that can be taken to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. If the accusation is political in intention and deceptive in nature, then a few predictable patterns emerge. By identifying these patterns, we can better distinguish the lines of truth and deception in a given political narrative. This skill will enable you to make more informed decisions on what actions to take or not take in response to the accusation that’s been presented.
The first trick is criminalization. Strategic criminalization occurs when one political entity attempts to create legal penalties for the socially accepted behaviors of a social, economic or political group. Efforts to outlaw homosexuality serve as a strong category of examples. Jim Crow laws prevented interracial “mixing” serve as another. In the context of sexual behavior, any attempt to criminalize behavior that does not involve coercion, intimidation or violence should be seen as an attempt to deploy a deceptive tactic.
The second trick is conflation. Another strategic tactic that deceptive rhetoricians rely heavily upon is one in which an accusation of a lesser charge is equated with an accusation on the same spectrum, but with a harsher penalty. For example, in Mississippi in the 1950s, a black man whistling at a white woman was conflated with sexual assault. The harshest political and legal punishments were forced upon those accused of this act, whether falsely or not. Lynching was also legally permissible, and even celebrated. (See the case of Emmitt Till here)
In our current context, legal sexual behavior is being conflated with sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is being conflated with sexual assault. And sexual assault is being conflated with legal sexual behavior. If a political actor or entity is conflating any of these distinct categories in order to demand stricter punishments on the accused than would otherwise be necessary, then there is enough evidence to suggest that a deceptive tactic is in play.
The third trick is deflection. Strategic deflection occurs when the accusation is redirected to the accusing party. For example, discussions surrounding Roy Moore are often deflected with accusations surrounding the Clintons. Conversations surrounding the lack of Democratic leadership are often deflected to accusations against the GOP Congress. In the context of sexual harassment, any attempts to avoid discussing the facts of the original accusation in favor or turning the conversation around on the accuser serves as evidence that a deceptive tactic is being deployed.
These guidelines apply to both Democrats and Republicans. But that is not to say that Republicans and Democrats apply these strategies with equal success or frequency. The purpose of identifying these strategies, though, is to know in a particular context whether or not you are being lied to. Whether or not you act on this lie is still up to you, but you should be able to identify that deception is in play, and acknowledge that you are or are not participating in it. If so, then you must also acknowledge that you are playing a role in exploiting sexual assault and harassment for political purposes.
Q5. What’s at Stake?
Many political battlegrounds are painted without grey zones — especially under the current Administration. One of the most dramatic differences between Liberals and Conservatives in general is their willingness to weaponize and counter accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Under the Trump Administration, the lines of differentiation could not be more clear.
The question being presented isn’t Do you Believe the Woman. The question that is really being asked is: Do you believe this argument is strong enough for you to turn over a Senate seat to the Republican party.
And the answer to these two questions do not necessarily need to be the same.
I repeat, you can believe a woman’s claims and still believe a Congressperson should keep their seat until the next election.
There are times when you can simultaneously believe an accusation is true — and that no action or an alternative action be taken. Instead of taking an approach that is slightly more complex, yet far more appropriate, the Democratic Party has adopted the Everyone Is Guilty and Should be Severely Punished approach that enabled Conservatives to lynch Emmett Till and thousands of black men in the south for little more than being seen near a white woman in the name of moral purity.
This position is not appropriate in general, but it is devastatingly inappropriate now under the Trump Administration. This position could potentially allow the GOP to handpick their Democratic counterparts and leave Senate seats open for Republicans to take during the Mid-term elections. Failure to defend women and Democratic Congressmen from Republican attacks will all but certainly result in the Republicans gaining more power in Congress and passing more legislation that will leave women with fewer rights and protections. If the Democrats refuse to defend against attacks from the Republicans, they will continue to hold all three branches of government and we will remain under control of the far right, it’s white nationalist administration and it’s pussy grabbing leader.
The stakes could not be higher.
Personal Model of Analysis
As a woman of color living with disabilities, an assault survivor, a mom and a strategist I have used this process to make a number of difficult political decisions surrounding accusations of sexual harassment and assault. The following is a description of how I choose to answer the questions and the political action (or inaction) I would take based on those answers. I am not offering my answers as a guideline for everyone — there will unquestionably be disagreement on the path that I would follow. But I would argue that this is the strongest path the Democratic Party could take to protect itself from erroneous attacks by the Republican Party while still fulfilling their obligations to protect both women and the legal process.
If there is no violence, coercion or intimidation in the act presented in the accusation, I don’t believe that actions to unseat a Representative should be taken. This applies to both sides of the aisle.
If there is an accusation of sexual harassment that is coming from the GOP, is unsubstantiated and targets a Democratic opponent — I don’t believe action needs to be taken against the Democrat. Even if other Democrats come on board.
If there is an accusation of sexual harassment that is made by the GOP against a Democrat with substantiated evidence, an admission of guilt, a guilty verdict and\or a confession — I still don’t necessarily believe that action should be taken to unseat that representative.
I personally believe that a call to act on removal must be weighted in terms of the least harm done — in the context as we know it. I personally believe that harassment is wrong. I know that it is criminal. I also don’t believe that the majority of crimes involving harassment warrant the removal of a Senator from office for two reasons:
1. It is dangerous to set a precedent in which anyone accused of sexual assault is subject to losing their job or suffering damages beyond those issued by the courts.
2. It is dangerous to hand over a Senate seat on the basis of a nonviolent crime to pussy grabbing pedophiles just because they demand it.
I would support a woman running to replace them when their term is carries out. And I would support other forms of action such as training — but I would not support removal. There are those that may draw that line differently. That is their choice. As a survivor and a mother, my choice rests on protecting all women, not leaving them unprotected in order to occupy the moral high ground.
Sexual assault is where I personally draw the line. I do not believe child molesters, pedophiles or rapists on either side of the aisle should occupy Congress. Especially under the current Administration. Depending on the severity of the allegation and the strength of the evidence presented against them, I would consider removing the representative from office prior to investigation. In the era of Project Veritas, though, I would not immediately move to remove a candidate. If there was an admission of guilt or a court ruling as such — I would support removal of the candidate no matter what side of the aisle they were on.
But again, those are my preferences. We are each entitled to our own political standards. But we have an obligation to be critical, consistent and transparent in matters of such great personal and political weight. We can’t apply a #MeToo Everyone is Guilty approach to sexual harassment and assault when these accusations are coming from the same networks of people responsible for lynching Emmett Till. We can’t apply an Everyone is Innocent approach in the times of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
What we can do — what we have a responsibility to do — is analyze the accusations in consistent and contextually appropriate ways. We can acknowledge that we don’t have to believe all accusations presented through a political filter. We can acknowledge that personal belief in an accusation don’t necessarily equate to a belief that the prescribed political consequence should be applied. We can set clear standards of behavior that we are willing to accept as people and as a Party a hold those lines on the political battlefield.
What we can’t do is allow the Republican Party to weaponize the very real traumas of sexual assault survivors in order to carve out more power for themselves in the Senate. We can’t allow more women’s lives to be placed in more dangers by helping the Republican Party advance their agenda. We cannot leave the political battlefield to occupy the moral high ground.
We have to fight back. We have to protect our leaders and communities from attacks from the far right, not just hand our people over to them without a fight. We must stand together and answer the hard questions instead of letting the Republican party answer them for us. We have to be willing to make difficult decisions and hold difficult positions. We have to defend each other and we have to protect each other.
If we can’t defend and protect each other — if we are more willing to fight each other than the Republican Party — we will continue to lose. If we can’t protect each other — perhaps we deserve to.