Biden and Trump have both faced allegations of sexual assault, why should we ignore one and focus on the other?Creator: JIM WATSON

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual assault.

When Tara Reade came forward on March 25th with serious allegations of sexual assault against then-prospective Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, her claims were met with apathy. It took 19 days for the New York Times and 20 for The Washington Post to cover the accusations; it took CNN a month. Subsequent corroborating evidence was also neglected by the press, including footage of Reade’s mother calling in to Larry King Live in 1993 and alluding to the alleged assault, alongside multiple sources confirming that they were made aware of the allegations in the immediate period following 1993.

Notable silence has also come from the Democratic camp. It is an unspoken rule among the left that we should turn a blind eye to Biden’s personal and political failings if we want to achieve a utilitarian electoral outcome - the removal of Trump from office. When posed as a binary choice, it can be easy to acquiesce to this premise.

However, Democrats’ and leftists’ unwillingness to condemn Biden for his alleged assault reveals the extent to which sexual assault is still weaponised as a partisan issue, rather than acknowledged for what it is: a structural and endemic political force. Around one in six people working in Capitol Hill have experienced sexual harassment. In the words of Sheryl Gay Stolberg: “at its core, sexual harassment is about power, and politics is the ultimate power profession”.

Trump’s record of sexual misconduct, with allegations from at least 25 women, undeniably implies a much more extensive and egregious abuse of power than the single allegation against Joe Biden. This, however, does not make Biden’s offence, if true, any better. Dismissing the allegations against Biden suggests we erroneously see sexual assault as something relative and quantifiable: one sexual assault is “better” than twenty five. Whether an abuser commits one assault or twenty five, they are still an abuser. Concealing the details of Joe Biden’s alleged assault only affirms the conditions which allowed Trump to be deemed electable in the first place. If we give Biden a pass, we validate the idea that it is right to give power to sexual abusers, and fall prey to a number of prevalent misconceptions.

“Sexual abuse is rendered permissible in politics because of an intricately woven narrative of victim-blaming, doubt and silencing”

One of these misconceptions is the refusal to acknowledge that supporting alleged sexual predators in seats of power correlates to an anti-women political agenda. Sexual assault is treated as an issue incidental to somebody’s politics. Trump’s administration has gutted funding for women’s rights funds and reproductive health, blocked equal pay laws, and overturned health protection law and support services for trans women. Likewise, Biden was until recently a long-time supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which denied abortions to more than one million low-income women, and he worked to remove mandated coverage for contraception from the Affordable Care Act.

Sexual abuse is rendered permissible in politics because of an intricately woven narrative of victim-blaming, doubt and silencing when it comes to assault allegations. Both Biden and Trump have a history of propagating this narrative.

Whilst chair of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden presided over the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas, who was alleged to have sexually harassed law professor Anita Hill. Biden grossly mishandled the case, all but ensuring that Hill’s allegations would be disregarded. Throughout the hearings, Biden worked on the assumption that Hill’s testimony was false – stating that her allegations had “no merit”. He failed to protect her anonymity and held back the FBI’s explosive corroborative report on the case. Biden also allowed Thomas to testify both before and after Anita Hill, despite promises to the contrary. Furthermore, he failed to call several witnesses and harassments experts set to corroborate Hill’s testimony, whilst allowing Thomas 16 character witnesses. This set a sure precedent for the 2018 Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

“...the notion of a widespread “false allegation” phenomenon is a pernicious myth.”

The dangerous stereotypes Biden reinforced through his handling of Hill’s case sent shockwaves throughout the country and set a standard for how sexual assault allegations should be treated. Much of that standard still holds. During Thomas’ confirmation hearings, he allowed Hill to be labelled as a “psychopathic sex fiend or pervert” with a “delusional disorder”, furthering the idea that women who accuse men in power of sexual assault are invariably lying. Biden profited from this idea when facing his own allegations from Reade, which he vehemently denied.

What Biden and Trump both invoked in their cases is the widely-cited spectre of the “false sexual assault allegation”. It is often stated that “false” rape allegations constitute somewhere around 2% of overall claims. However, what is encompassed by the category “falseness” is wildly diverse, ranging from cases where a perpetrator is identified incorrectly by a victim or third party (but the crime did take place), to cases without sufficient corroborating evidence of assault, particularly forensic evidence, where a verdict cannot be met.

In other words, the notion of a widespread “false allegation” phenomenon is a pernicious myth. Not only because it is vastly damaging to survivors, of whom only 10-15% report their assaults to the police (of which only 1.5% of cases lead to prosecutions). Nor because it alludes to misogynistic caricatures which suggest women use false allegations to exert control over men, when in reality the rate of false allegations for sexual crimes are no higher than for any other crime. But it also places sexual assault in an unhelpful gendered binary of victim and perpetrator, when in reality men are 230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape.


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The myth that false sexual assault allegations are widespread also makes us suggestible to the idea that sexual assault allegations against public figures are likely to be untrue, even when this defies all logic. Whilst the fact that Reade wrote misled opinion pieces about Russia in recent years is taken as sufficient to discredit her account of her alleged assault, as is the fact that her account has evolved over time (a recognised phenomenon among survivors), these standards are not extended to Biden. His dismissal of Hill’s claims, his close friendship with rapist (and segregationist) Strom Thurmond, and accounts from seven other women alleging that Biden touched them inappropriately are not viewed as potential correlatives of a wider attitude towards sexual misconduct, which could have enabled a more serious assault.

It seems to have become necessary to turn a blind eye to Biden’s failures, but we cannot risk further contributing to the normalisation of sexual abuse in politics by failing to investigate Reade’s claims. Doing so only reinforces the narrative which made Trump’s long history of alleged assault permissible in the first place – and could contribute to his campaign of re-election rather than undermining it.

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