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Impact

The White House’s Response to the Roy Moore Sexual Assault Allegations Discredited Survivors Everywhere

In the wake of numerous reports of sexual misconduct, prominent Republicans have called upon embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to withdraw from the race. There’s just one catch: They only think Moore should drop out if his five accusers aren’t liars.

“If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said in a statement. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) initially claimed that we “need to know the truth,” before somewhat softening his tone: “There are serious charges of criminal conduct that if true make him unfit.” Even the White House repeated the GOP refrain. “If these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on behalf of the president.

On the surface, it appeared that Moore’s party was condemning him. But in truth, the phrasing served to undermine justice for the women brave enough to come forward with reports that the former district attorney propositioned them as teenagers. Instead of calling upon Americans to believe victims of sexual assault, the GOP only planted more seeds of doubt.

In doing so, these politicians helped undermine the veracity of sexual assault allegations everywhere.

Before the allegations surfaced in the media, Moore already had a troubling record in public life. He has been twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for bringing his fringe conservative Christian views in the courtroom and was found guilty of several ethical violations after attempting to block same-sex marriages in Alabama. One of the nation’s most outspoken homophobes, he called for “homosexual conduct” to be illegal during a 2005 interview with C-SPAN2.

That record ought to be disqualifying on its own. And yet, Republicans in Moore’s home state would rather defend someone who recently claimed that “transgenders don’t have rights” than women who went on the record with a national news report backed up by more than 30 sources.

In a stunning Washington Post report published on Nov. 9, four women said that Moorethen in his 30spropositioned them when they were between the ages of 14 and 18.

Leigh Corfman was the youngest of the accusers at the time she alleges Moore pursued her. An adrift “kid of a divorced family,” she says that Moore approached her outside of a courtroom in 1979. Corfman’s mom had to go to a child custody hearing and Moore offered to take care of the teenage girl. When her mother was inside, he asked Corfman for her number and pursued her from there.

On their second date, Moore brought Corfman to his home whereafter undressing hershe claims he touched Corfman over her bra and panties and guided her hand over his underwear.

“I wanted it over withI wanted out,” Corfman told the Post she was thinking at the time.

A fifth accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, came forward at a press conference on Monday with allegations that when she a waitress in Gadsden, Ala. in the 70s, Moore sexually assaulted her. A regular at the restaurant she worked, Moore would grab Nelson’s hair as part of his “flirtatious behavior.” One night he offered her a ride home, but instead of taking her back to her house, Nelson says Moore attempted to force himself on her in the parking lot.

She was just 16 at the time of the incident.

While the past week may be the first time the nation has heard about Moore’s alleged pursuit of teenage girls, his behavior was well-known to others. His colleagues have claimed it was “common knowledge” that he dated teenage girls. In fact, Moore’s habit of seeking out teens was so notorious that he was reportedly banned from a local mall in the 1980s for trying to pick up young women, according to The New Yorker.

Moore dismissed the allegations as an effort to shut down his campaign ahead of the Dec. 10 special election, calling them “completely false” and “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post.”

Like the many men who’ve faced allegations as toxic masculinity has undergone a reckoning in recent weeks, the allegations these women describe are remarkably consistent with one another. Moore routinely wielded his position of authority to gain favor, taking girls on long car rides through the woods and plying them with wine on dates, despite being too young to drink. Even as he blamed the “fake news” media for spreading the reports, all he could tell Sean Hannity is that it “would’ve been out of [his] customary behavior,” far from an unequivocal denial.

Yet Moore still gets the benefit of the doubt from some of the most powerful Republicans in the country, who left the door open to the chance that just maybe somehow possibly these women aren’t telling the truth.

His accusers, meanwhile, have been interrogated, smeared, and outright threatened at every opportunity, their allegations minimized and dismissed. Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler compared Moore’s predatory relationships with women to Mary and Josephand strangely wasn’t the only person to make a Biblical connection to the alleged abuse. Ed Henry, an Alabama state representative, even called for the accusers to be prosecuted.

If it feels familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before.

On Friday, the White House returned to the classic Donald Trump playbook: deny, deflect, and discredit. While leaving the door open to the highly unlikely possibility that five unrelated women worked together to smear a man nearly 40 years after the fact, Sanders downplayed the depravity at hand.

“The President believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case, one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life,” she said in a statement.

By reducing Moore’s numerous abuses to a “mere allegation,” the Oval Office reduced a diligent piece of journalismand the lived experiences of women everywhereto a kindergarten telephone game. By implying that the accusation was intended to “destroy” Moore’s life, the statement vilified his accusers.

It makes sense that the president wouldn’t want an allegation “from many years ago” to have an impact on a fellow politician’s career. After all, Donald Trump was elected because nearly half of the American electorate didn’t see the numerous accusations of sexual assault against him as damning. Reports emerged during the 2016 campaign that he had groped and forcibly kissed at least 10 women without their consent over a span of decades. Then there was the video in which the future leader of the free world literally described how he assaulted women.

Even with the “grab them by the pussy” remarks made to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, Trump called the reports “totally and completely fabricated.”

Sanders was asked during an October press conference if the White House’s official position on the women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct was that they were “lying.” The press secretary held the line: “Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning, and the president’s spoken on it.”

Moore and his supporters have followed Trump’s script to an uncanny degree.

The repeated character assassination is evidence of what see almost every time a woman comes forward: that we have so little to gain in going public. Just like Trump’s accusers were called “horrible, horrible liars,” Corfman was doxxed on Twitter for speaking up. Her photo and workplace address were posted on the social media platform, while the alt-right website Breitbarthas conducted a smear campaign to brand the allegations as false reporting.

This system of discrediting and punishing women is meant to keep survivors silent. And, it usually works. Sexual assault is among the most underreported crimes: 63 percent of rapes are never reported to police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. As long as the cost of going public means that women will continue to be seen as unreliable narrators of their own lives, men in power will act with impunity. The bar for believing women becomes so high that it’s practically out of reach.

The events of the past week ultimately echo the very words that Nelson claims Moore spat at her after the alleged assault so many years ago. Nelson said that he warned that if she ever came forward “no one will believe you.” His spite has become a chilling prophecy.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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