Content warning: This article discusses topics around sexual assault that may be triggering for some readers.
It’s misleading to say that our society has made significant progress dealing with sexual misconduct when our governmental system has consistently put politics before people.
In 2016, I watched a man who was accused of sexually assaulting 17 women become the president. Last year, a man who was accused of raping a woman in high school became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
And this year, I’m watching a man accused of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior toward women become the frontrunner of the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, according to The New York Times poll from Aug. 30.
It’s this legacy of ignoring and disregarding accusations of sexual assault and harassment for the sake of politics that is dangerous to female politicians, staff and interns. But it’s a legacy that we can stop, as soon as we put people before politics.
This starts with acknowledging and acting on the accusations against presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The Washington Post reported in April that seven different women, most notably the former-Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores, came forward about Biden’s “unwanted affection” and “inappropriate behavior” toward them.
Flores recounted a situation where the Democratic frontrunner stood close to her, smelled her hair and “proceeded to plant a big, slow kiss on the back of my head,” according to an article she wrote for The Cut in March.
Vail Kohnert-Yount, a White House intern, came forward this April about a 2013 interaction with Biden where he put his hand on the back of her head, pressing his forehead against hers, while talking to her and calling her “a pretty girl,” the Washington Post reported.
Biden addressed the accussations in a video from April that he would be “more mindful” of his behavior.
My thoughts go back to Anita Hill’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, and how those allegations of sexual harassment did little to stop him from getting appointed to the judiciary. The man in charge of that testimony was Joe Biden himself, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, according to The Washington Post.
Nearly 20 years later, we’re at the same place.
It’s difficult to watch Biden soar in popularity despite his numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Women have spoken out about [mistreatment] for decades. The idea that the #MeToo Movement and the Times Up Movement have ushered in an entirely new set of rules is wrong,” said Carolyn Kitch, a journalism professor whose research focuses on gender and mass media.
Yet, despite numerous allegations of inappropriate behavior, Biden remains the frontrunner of a party that claims to ensure “full equality for women,” according to the Democratic party platform.
“I don’t think that the general public really has a care in the world about that stuff,” said Jordan Laslett, a master’s in public policy candidate.
“There are really important things that Joe Biden has tapped on that stand out more” to voters compared to a politician’s inappropriate behavior, Laslett added.
David Nickerson, a political science professor, agrees.
“In the context of the primary, most of the candidates share similar platforms on women’s issues,” Nickerson said, and as a result, Biden’s behavior will not make a meaningful difference in how he is viewed by voters.
“There’s [a] strain of democratic voters that all they want to do is beat Trump,” he added. “Joe Biden is an old white guy who they think will appeal to working class voters.”
It seems to be the case that the public cares more about politics than a politician’s inappropriate behavior and I think we should place greater emphasis on this.
Female politicians, staff and interns should feel safe to go to work, without fears of inappropriate behavior by men in power.
The popularity of Joe Biden is another case of apathy toward sexual misconduct in a history of powerful men getting away with inappropriate behavior simply because of our passivity.
And it’s a history we can change, starting with Biden.
Frankly, the time’s up for excusing sexual misconduct.