No, You Can't Ignore Sexual Harassment Claims Just Because You Agree With Someone's Politics

by Alexandra Svokos
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Thursday, Nov. 16, news anchor Leeann Tweeden claimed Senator Al Franken groped and forcibly kissed her without her consent in December 2006. The TalkRadio 790 KABC host published a first-person piece about her story on KABC, telling Franken "there’s nothing funny about sexual assault." Hers is the latest in a long string of allegations against a variety of powerful men that have come to light over the past six weeks — and it's the latest to hit Capitol Hill. While the nation has been looking at allegations against Republican Roy Moore from Alabama, now Democrats face their own reckoning, and the Franken allegations are a stark reminder that sexual harassment is nonpartisan, and therefore our reactions to these allegations must also be nonpartisan.

Franken apologized in a statement and called for an ethics investigation into his own conduct. Franken is a beloved icon to many across the country, as both a comedian and an outspoken Democratic senator for Minnesota. As more allegations of sexual misconduct come out against more and more once-beloved icons, however, many Americans are experiencing a natural response: It's easy to be outraged about allegations against someone you already disagreed with or didn't like; it's much more difficult to transition your disappointed groan to outrage when it comes to someone you agree with or appreciate. While the claims against Moore and Franken are wildly different, it would be hypocritical to shrug off claims against one just because they have the same politics as you.

A total of eight women have accused Moore, who is running as a Republican for the Senate in Alabama in an election that's supposed to take place in December, of a variety of sexual misconduct allegations. These accusations range from Moore pursuing them as teenagers when he was in his 30s (mostly in the 1980s) to sexual assault. Moore has denied these claims, attributing most of them as politically motivated attacks.

In her article, Tweeden claims that Franken groped her in December 2006 while they were on a United Service Organizations (USO) Tour entertaining the troops. She appeared in onstage skits with Franken and claims that he wrote a kiss into one script and then pressured her to "rehearse" the kiss, which made her feel "disgusted and violated." After getting back to the U.S. from the trip, Tweeden claims that she found a picture of Franken grabbing her breasts while she was asleep on the plane in a flak vest. She included the picture in her article. In response to the allegations against him, Franken said in a statement to the press that he "certainly" does not "remember the rehearsal in the same way" and that the photo was "clearly intended to be funny but wasn't." He added that he "shouldn't have done it" and that he sends his "sincerest apologies to Leeann."

Since the Moore allegations first came out on Nov. 9, many people — led by Democrats — have called for him to step out of the Senate race. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has called for Moore to drop out. However, Moore is refusing those calls.

The idea behind those calls to drop out is simple: An elected official meant to represent the people should have base level respect for all people, which includes women. Base level respect includes not aggressively pursuing teenage girls or grabbing a woman's breasts while she's asleep, as these politicians have been accused of doing. That's not a partisan concept. (Allegations against former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as against President Donald Trump remind us that as much as we want an ideal country where our elected leaders don't have these claims against them, it's not exactly reality.)

As much as people have been calling for Moore's alleged behavior to have consequences and be examined, people should also call for Franken's alleged behavior to share those same consequences and examinations. One doesn't nullify the other or make one political party "better" than the other. It's not an outrage competition. It's just believing women and believing that women should be treated with extremely base level respect.