Sexual misconduct as a non-partisan issue and the impact of the #MeToo movement on voters

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Sexual misconduct as a non-partisan issue and the impact of the #MeToo movement on voters

Photo by Melinda Beck.

Photo by Melinda Beck.

Photo by Melinda Beck.

Photo by Melinda Beck.

Julia Balli, Assistant Editor

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As the 2020 presidential election draws near, there are many presidential candidates attempting to run for office. A few candidates have sexual misconduct claims made against them before or after the beginning of the #MeToo movement. 

Sexual misconduct allegations against President Trump have been in the media since his announcement of candidacy and prior24 women have made allegations against President Trump since the 1970s.  

Trump has dismissed all the allegations — which include ogling, harassment, groping, and rape. For some cases, Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, suggested that Trump didn’t engage in the alleged behavior with a certain woman because she was not attractive enough. “She’s not my type,” Trump said in an exclusive interview with The Hill to dismiss the most recent sexual allegation made against him by E. Jean Carrol, who said that he raped her in a department store in the 1990s. 

In her first-person essay to the New York MagazineCaroll recounted her interaction with men in her life, including President Trump in the introductory paragraph: 

“My first rich boy pulled down my underpants. My last rich boy pulled down my tights. My first rich boy — I had fixed my eyes on his face long enough to know — was beautiful, with dark gray eyes and long golden-brown hair across his forehead. I don’t know what he grew up to be. My last rich boy was blond. He grew up to be the president of the United States.” 

Caroll’s allegation did not receive much attention to the public as only 15 percent of registered voters said they heard about the latest accusation of sexual assault against Trump.

“Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” said Trump during a rally in 2016 

Sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue and President Trump is not the only person in office that has had sexual misconduct claims made against him. Former Vice President Joe Biden has also been accused of alleged sexual misconduct.  

Lucy Flores recounts her experience with Joe Biden in a first-person essay for the New York Magazine, describing an incident in 2014 when Biden came up behind her, leaned in, smelled her hair, and kissed the back of her head.  

“For years I feared my experience would be dismissed. Biden will be Biden. Boys will be boys. I worried about the doubts, the threats, the insults, and the minimization. ‘It’s not that big of a deal. He touched her, so what?’ The immediate passing of judgement and the questioning of motives. ‘Why now? Why so long after? She just wants attention.’ Or: ‘It’s politically motivated.’ I would be lying if I said I didn’t carefully consider all of this before deciding to speak. But hearing Biden’s potential candidacy for president discussed without much talk about his troubling past as it relates to women became too much to keep bottled up any longer,” said Flores.  

Others also accused Biden of this behavior. During a 2009 political fundraiser in Greenwich, Amy Lappos accused Biden of acting inappropriately towards her. “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth,” said Lappos 

Biden has dismissed all the claims. “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort and not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”

Trump and Biden represent two well-known examples of sexual misconduct, but there are also claims against others in office that contribute to the overall problem of sexual misconduct in our society. 

In a 2018 study by the Georgetown University Law Center there were discoveries of the numbers of elected officials with current claims. “At least 138 government officials in both elected and appointed positions, have been publicly reported for sexual harassment, assault, misconduct, or violence against women since the 2016 election. These include all allegations of sex-related misconduct reported in national, state, and local media. A large majority of these officials – 104 of them, or 75 percent — have left or been ousted from their positions. After this week’s midterm election, 34, at most, will remain in office by January 2019.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has also been accused of sexual misconduct. Nine women have accused Moore of sexual assault or romantically pursuing them while they were in their teens and he was in his 30s while he was running for a seat in the state senate. 

Many Republicans including Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan called for Moore to drop out of the race. Despite many people urging him to drop out, Trump expressed his support for Moore and endorsed Moore’s denials“President Trump explicitly endorsed embattled candidate Roy Moore on Monday, saying he needs a Republican in the Alabama seat to help push through key parts of his agenda such as tax cuts and the border wall.” 

Although Trump backed Moore, he lost his seat for Senate to Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. Moore represented an entire state, but there are cases when the person accused of sexual misconduct goes on to still obtain a higher position in office and even more power. 

On July 9, 2018 Trump nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy, who was retiring, as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in the United States. After his nomination allegations of sexual misconduct quickly emerged, many of which dated back to the 1980s. 

The main allegation against Kavanaugh was by Christine Blasey Ford, in which he assaulted her at a party in college while he was intoxicated. Despite Ford testifying in court, Kavanaugh was still elected to the Supreme Court by the Senate with a vote of 50-48 and Kavanaugh took the oath of office on Oct. 6, 2018. 

Even though “republicans have grown more skeptical of women who report harassment and the motivation behind their claims,” sexual misconduct allegations are not party specific. Former Minnesota Senator Al Franken was accused by Leeann Tweeden of sexual assault by forcibly kissing and groping her. 

Before Franken could appear before the Senate Ethics Community, more than two dozen Democratic senators, led by SenKirsten Gillibrand, called on Franken to resign. 

In a recent New Yorker article, Jane Mayer explains her opinion that the case against Franken was not all that it seemed. “Franken feels deeply sorry that he made women uncomfortable and is still trying to understand and learn from what he did wrong. But he told me that ‘differentiating different kinds of behavior is important … The idea that anybody who accuses someone of something is always right—that’s not the case. That isn’t reality.’” 

As a response, Slate published an article entitled, “What Jane Meyer Gets Wrong About Al Franken.”

Near the beginning of her piece, Mayer describes Franken as a man ‘on the losing side of the #MeToo movement.’ To me, this was a jarring, reductive framing of a powerful push for social change, one that has demanded women revisit, reevaluate, and lay bare their most painful memories. A grassroots movement against sexism and abuse has no winners and losers. Neither is there anyone at the top to adjudicate claims, dole out punishments, and make the rules. If Franken resigned too hastily, that’s not the fault of the #MeToo movement, nor of the female senators who were repulsed by a compromising photo and by an allegation from a Democratic Senate staffer some of them knew. Efforts to make sense of the accusations against Franken should be welcomed by people invested in justice for the accused and accusers alike. Efforts to frame the #MeToo movement as a dangerous zero-sum game should not.” 

Through all of these allegations, many people have wondered if the #MeToo movement will have an effect on the 2020 presidential elections. In a recent article from The Washington Post, they claim that “In 2018, Democrats mobilized behind sexual misconduct allegations againsSupreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. In the 2018 congressional midterms, many Democratic women defeated male GOP House incumbents, a personification of the movement that made Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaker and empowered figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).” 

“But this moment is different,” said Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz, “because the Democratic Party is looking to forge the broadest possible coalition heading into the 2020 election. It’s just more than the Me Too movement. There’s a lot of different movements converging,” said Katz, naming, for example, Black Lives Matter and the push to tackle climate change. “There’s a lot more that we need from our campaigns, and we need to nominate someone who can speak to much more of the broader base of the Democratic coalition.” 

If you or anyone you know wants to discuss or report sexual misconduct at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, or anywhere else, please reach out to our Student Life Violence Prevention Specialist Ingrid Peterson or the UWL website. Follow this link: https://www.uwlax.edu/violence-prevention/ 

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