If a teacher, school counselor or coach stood accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, they would face immediate suspension, if not immediate dismissal and revocation of their license. Even when a celebrity such as Kevin Spacey is accused of child molestation, there are immediate repercussions. Netflix canceled his show House of Cards, and condemnation rained down upon him from both the left and the right.
However, when a Republican politician is accused of assaulting a child, why do evangelicals race to support him, despite the allegations? The hypocrisy is pathetic, and, quite frankly, deplorable.
That is exactly what happened in the case of Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and current Senate contender in the state. When allegations broke that Moore stood accused of assaulting 14-year-old Leigh Cofman, his popularity barely dipped in the polls.
Even though some GOP Senators, such as John McCain of Arizona, have publicly condemned Moore and urged him to step down, others have been far from vocal in decrying his candidacy. President Donald Trump, who went on a tear against Democratic Sen. Al Franken regarding allegations that he groped a sleeping woman, has been conspicuously silent on the allegations against Moore. Others on the right wing have set up a false equivalency between the allegations against Moore and the 1998 scandal between former President Bill Clinton and then-aide Monica Lewinsky.
This sort of partisan bickering over an issue as serious as child molestation and sexual assault is not only patently absurd — it is devastating to the victims of abuse. No one would argue that murder is a matter for partisan politics. It is a heinous crime members of both parties unilaterally agree deserves to be punished accordingly. Sexual assault is every bit as horrific, and the scars haunt the victims for a lifetime. Both parties should immediately and openly condemn sexual assault.
Why, then, has the GOP been so slow to speak out against Moore?
Evangelical Hypocrisy on Sexual Assault
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the entire Roy Moore sexual assault case is his overwhelming support from evangelical Christians, the very people most would think would be quickest to condemn his behavior. After all, they were the most vocal group in support of the impeachment of former President Clinton in the wake of the Lewinsky scandal.
It is no secret that statistics show, time and time again, evangelical Christians tend to espouse conservative politics. However, the reasons Christian fundamentalists often give for their conservative viewpoint is based on messages from the pulpit, not on matters of policy.
Indeed, the entire “Moral Majority” movement, founded by Christian fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, is based upon using evangelical Christian beliefs to influence matters of public policy. Since 1979, Christian fundamentalists have indeed showed their muscle when it comes to influencing political matters.
Christian fundamentalists are the most vocal opponents of so-called moral matters such as marriage equality and a woman’s right to birth control and abortion, even though the Christ of the Bible they use to defend their beliefs never spoke on the morality or immorality of either abortion or homosexuality.
Fundamentalists found both their religious and political views upon specially selected Old Testament verses. They point to verses such as Romans 1:26-27 to support their belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Likewise, they point to other Old Testament passages such as Exodus 22:18 to defend their stance that birth control and abortion lead to female wantonness and promiscuity.
As antiquated and downright archaic as such biblical passages may be, what is even more abhorrent is the way many evangelical Christians now are using “proof” from the Bible to justify sexual assault and child molestation.
For example, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, one of the many Republican politicians who has endorsed Roy Moore, points to the biblical story of Zachariah and Elizabeth. According to Zeigler, Elizabeth was “quite young” when she was married to Zachariah, yet their union led to the birth of John the Baptist.
Even for Christians and biblical scholars, this statement is purely disingenuous. According to Luke 1:8-9, in which the passage Zeigler mentions appears, an angel appears to Zachariah stating that he is to wed Elizabeth, and that she will give birth to a son who is a forerunner to the Savior. However, Zachariah, not believing the angel, replies, “I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
A 14-year-old girl is hardly “well along in years.” And Zeigler’s statement goes to show the inimical nature of fundamentalist preachers and how they will blatantly warp Bible passages to suit their own political designs while hoodwinking an ignorant populace into believing their word is the word of God.
As odious as such excuses for Moore’s behavior are, they should not be shocking. Sexual assault, and particularly child molestation, are crimes that depend on the element of secrecy. When an assault victim comes forward with accusations, a sexual predator’s first response is to try to cover up their contemptible behavior with lies, deceit and attacks on the victims.
Moore’s shamefully complicit supporters have stated he and Cofman were dating, that nothing really happened because they didn’t have vaginal intercourse, that all they did was kiss. Some have gone so far as to state that 14-year-old girls often make stupid decisions — while saying nothing about the fact that it is not only stupid, but criminal, for a 32-year-old man to undress and grope a 14-year-old girl.
Let’s state it loudly and clearly for the record: A 14-year-old girl does not have the decision-making ability of a 32-year-old man.
The age of consent in Alabama is 16 for a reason, and many argue even that age is far too young to protect young women from sexual predators. Regardless, 14 is well below the age of consent, especially for a man more than twice Cofman’s age.
But the hypocrisy is even more glaring when we compare the way fundamentalist Christians reacted to accusations when the target of the allegations is a Democrat. For example, evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, despite allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill.
However, when allegations arose that former President Bill Clinton sexually harassed Paula Jones at approximately the same time, their condemnation of Clinton was swift and sure. The difference in their reaction could not possibly have been starker. Clearly, as religious as those on the right may claim to be, their sense of morality only applies when the accused sexual assailant is a Democrat.
It is clear fundamentalist Christians’ righteous ire only extends to accusations targeting members of the left wing of politics. When, however, the allegations concern a conservative right-wing politician, no amount of evidence and no degree of the heinousness of the crime will convince them that the sexual abuse was not in some way either fabricated or deserved by the victim. And as the evidence mounts, evangelicals will go so far as to state that the act was approved by “God.”
If You’re a Left-Wing Sexual Abuser, You’re Sunk. If You’re a Right-Wing Abuser, You’re OK.
Anthony Weiner, a former member of the House of Representatives from New York, stood accused and was eventually convicted of sending sexually explicit photos of his genitals to a 15-year-old girl. In September, the former congressman was sentenced to two years in prison for his crimes.
The difference between how Weiner and Moore have been treated could not be more obvious. When allegations surfaced that Weiner was accused of sexting with a teen girl, members of both parties stepped forward to condemn his actions and his continued candidacy. Nobody thought to bring up the morality of the girl he was sexting with.
However, in the Roy Moore case, both the veracity and the character of his accusers have been called into question. Moore’s supporters continue to claim the sexual assault he allegedly perpetrated on Cofman was in some way a consensual affair, blatantly ignoring the fact that it is impossible for a 14-year-old to legally consent to sexual contact with an adult male.
Moore’s other accusers have faced even harsher scrutiny from those on the right. While many of his other accusers were at the age of consent — 16 in Alabama — at the time of their assaults, their character is being viciously smeared. Moore’s supporters have accused them of leading the senatorial candidate on, Lolita-style, and even claim Moore romantically “fell in love” with many of them.
Moore’s predilection for teenage girls was notorious even prior to his senatorial bid. According to Theresa Jones, a former deputy DA who served under Moore, it was common knowledge Moore dated teen girls, even if his constituents considered it “weird.” And nobody ever took action regarding the well-known allegations, even prior to his run for Senate.
Supporters of Moore also insist the allegations of abuse occurred years in the past, and therefore, it’s fair game to question their veracity. This ignores the reality of childhood sexual abuse. Often, children who are sexual assault victims lack the legal knowledge and even the very terminology to explain what has happened to them. Sadly, other children who come forward either get dismissed outright, or are accused of leading the abuser on in some way.
This is certainly the case not only for Moore’s alleged victims, but for victims who have stepped forward to accuse other powerful Republican figures, as well. More than a dozen women have accused President Donald Trump of rape, including a 13-year-old girl who was lured to a party thrown by admitted child predator Jeffrey Epstein under the guise of a modeling contract. The girl, known as “Jane Doe,” stated that Trump, who admitted he attended the party, held her down and forced her into intercourse, threatening to have her family members harmed should she come forward.
Yet Trump and Moore both seem untouchable in regards to these allegations. While some Congressional Democrats have opened up an investigation into whether Trump should be impeached, nothing in their investigation has anything to do with the sexual abuse allegations against him. Compare this to the consequences that President Clinton faced over an adult sexual encounter.
Likewise, while Moore now trails Democratic contender Doug Jones by 12 percentage points, he is still very much in the race. And, given the way the 2016 elections turned suddenly in favor of conservatives despite polls to the contrary, it’s clear Moore’s defeat is far from guaranteed.
Should Moore be elected, there remains the possibility he could be expelled from office. The Senate Ethics Committee retains the right to remove Moore through expulsion should his crimes be considered morally egregious. However, the last time the Senate moved to remove a member on moral grounds was in 1862. Given the way Senate Republicans have failed to act on the allegations of sexual abuse against Trump, a motion for expulsion should Moore be elected seems highly unlikely.
Compare this to the reaction of Republican Senators and Trump himself over allegations that Democratic Senator Al Franken groped correspondent Leeann Tweeden without her consent. Senate Democrats — yes, Democrats — have called for an ethics investigation into Franken’s behavior. Republican senators have remained silent, despite Trump’s Twitter outrage at the act, perhaps sensing the hypocrisy they show when one of their own is accused.
The Bottom Line: Sexual Assault Is Not a Matter for Partisan Politics
Sexual assault is among the most egregious crimes imaginable. And there are few crimes more morally reprehensible than the sexual exploitation of a minor. Even among prison inmates, sexual abusers and rapists are shunned, or worse, by fellow criminals.
Sexual abuse of a minor leaves lifelong scars on the victims that impact every single aspect of their lives. Childhood sexual abuse has been linked to vastly higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse issues, dissociative patterns of behavior, sleeping problems, sexual problems and relationship problems than any other form of child abuse.
Female adult survivors of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse are more likely to suffer high rates of unwanted pregnancy and STDs than their peers. They are more likely than their peers to become the victims of domestic violence due to the unhealthy relationship and sexual patterns they have learned. They often suffer from panic disorders and severe trust issues which prevent them from having a normal, healthy relationship or overall high quality of life.
Given this, the fact that some have looked to turn sexual assault, including childhood sexual abuse, into a partisan matter is vile and opprobrious in the extreme. Not only does the slut-shaming and harsh interrogation of sexual assault victims from the right further victimize women who have endured this abuse, it speaks volumes about our lack of morality as a society.
When a victim of sexual assault comes forward, they deserve our respect for having the courage to speak up. At the very least, they deserve our belief that what they are stating is the truth, unless express proof to the contrary exists.
However, in our society, sexual assault victims who dare to come forward often get victimized all over again. When an assault victim comes forward, she faces many questions. Will anyone believe me? How will this damage my reputation? How will this impact my future career prospects? Will my entire sexual history become a matter of public scrutiny, and will I be ostracized as a result?
If the accused is a conservative Republican, the answer to the last question is too often, “Yes.”
This must end. There is zero room for partisan politics in sexual assault cases. We as a society must send a unilateral, nonpartisan message that when it comes to women’s rights issues today and sexual assault — and especially sexual assault on minors — enough is enough.
We have done this in other areas. Entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein has been all but brought down over allegations that he sexually assaulted numerous women. Why should politicians get a free pass when it comes to sexual assault? Regardless of the reason, it must end. It is damaging to the victims, and it is a stake in the heart of our very soul as a moral society.
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