There’s something both empowering and disturbing about the hordes of women and men coming forward to tell their stories of sexual abuse. Disturbing, because what other word could be used to describe cases of rape, sexual harassment and assault being buried and overlooked for years? And empowering, because these revelations are the direct product of women working together to create spaces for other women and survivors to feel safe opening up about their traumas — if they so choose — and help bring perpetrators to justice.
But anyway, back to disturbing. Last week, a bombshell report by the The Washington Post about Alabama Judge Roy Moore, the Republican Party’s Senate candidate in a special election slated to take place on Dec. 12, alleged that Moore had inappropriate relationships with minors and teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Some women have accused Moore of child molestation and asserting his power and credibility as a district attorney to silence them.
Locals and Moore’s former co-workers corroborate these allegations, recounting how many in Moore’s community thought it was odd that he “dated” high school students, frequented high school football games and was even banned from a local mall for harassing teenage girls. Imagine living in a country where a man banned from a mall for predatory behavior could be welcomed into the capital’s esteemed lawmaking chambers.
At any rate, as is typically the case when shocking allegations are made about high-profile male figures, a disproportionate amount of effort is being spent not on holding Moore accountable, but on doling out misogynistic lines of attack to cast doubt on his female accusers. This is the typical rhythm of stories of this nature — projecting sexist ideas of the perfect female victim, the perfect timeline of abuse, to discredit and punish women who don’t meet these arbitrary standards. And yet, here is where the circumstances in Moore’s story diverge from those of other famous male predators: His victims were children when he allegedly abused them. His victims were children, while Moore was and is a grown, adult male — and yet he is the one his supporters are determined to absolve of responsibility.
This particular reality may be difficult to absorb, and yet there’s a reason that it’s so familiar. That is, women never really get to be children — or, at least, not in the way that men do. Rather, we’ve always been forced to grow up more quickly than our male counterparts, an infuriating reality that’s all but confirmed by the inability of Moore’s defenders — who range from Fox News’ resident conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity, to the Bible story-telling Alabama state auditor, Jim Zeigler — to acknowledge that the women accusing Moore were children when he allegedly took advantage of them.
And beyond that, young women don’t get to enjoy the privilege of their mistakes or inappropriate behaviors being laughed off with a dismissive, “girls will be girls” — we’re taught the consequences of our actions, whereas young men aren’t. Survivors know what they might face in coming forward to talk about sexual assault and abuse — disbelief, character attacks, perhaps even being forced to relive their trauma. And so, when it comes to cases of sexual assault and violence, it’s no surprise that 67 percent of survivors don’t come forward or report to the police.
Perhaps this is the foundation of abuse of power among influential men: The idea that what they say and do don’t have consequences, because the subjects of their abuse lack the power to challenge them. One of Moore’s accusers said that he nearly choked her while trying to force her to orally gratify him, and later said the words, “You are a child. I am the district attorney of Etowah County.”
The Post’s report would be a lot to take in had its subject been anyone other than Moore, but Moore’s identity as a fervently devout, holier-than-thou Christian — one who has equated abortion to murder, who has called for homosexual acts to be criminalized and for Muslims to be banned from the Senate — is what makes the report the once-in-a-generation spectacle that it is.
And yet, my point here is not that Moore’s hypocrisy is particularly surprising. Aggressively intolerant Republicans hiding skeletons in the closet aren’t rare — notably, this year, a report alleged that while promoting the March for Life, an anti-choice Congressman tried to coerce his mistress into having an abortion. Hypocrisy and intense contradiction between public and private morality are so commonplace among far-right politicians that in Moore’s case, it arguably isn’t even the story.
Yes, there are criticisms that must be made of a fringe-right that produces and enables the likes of Moore and his loyalists. For all the “pro-life” movement’s banter about protecting and nurturing children (all, of course, while defunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program last month), those at its helm are the ones who have seized on allegations against Moore to try and re-litigate the age of consent, to implicitly give child abusers the “OK” by advocating on Moore’s behalf.
Still, the issue at hand is bigger, even, than that. As women, we’re made to exist in a society in which we’re either infantilized or dealt full blame and responsibility at the convenience of men like Moore. Women are regarded as children when it comes to making basic decisions about our bodies and reproductive health, and we’re adults when it comes to absolving men of responsibility for their actions. Moore and his supporters are the products of a political climate in which women are allowed to be only one of two extremes.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.