Don’t look at sexual abuse through a political lens

Years ago, somewhere around 1990, my wife and I and our two daughters visited my Aunt Elnora, who lived in Arkansas.

Last week, I found myself remembering that trip – especially the Arkansas newspaper article I read while my aunt was doting over the Evans girls.

The article dealt with the popular Arkansas governor at the time, Bill Clinton, who was being mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for president. In the article, Clinton told reporters that if he decided to run, he would not be addressing rumors that he had engaged in extramarital affairs and sexual encounters.

I knew nothing of the rumors until then. But I knew it would be impossible for Clinton to stick to that I-won’t-comment position if he decided to jump into the presidential race. The public generally doesn’t accept silence from government officials or would-be government officials when shenanigans are suspected.

That long-ago newspaper article came to mind last week because of the controversy that exploded over the Washington Post disclosures about U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Alabama Republican, a lawyer and former judge, allegedly had repeated romantic or sexual involvement with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. The most troubling allegations dealt with sexual advances he supposedly made on a 14-year-old girl in 1979 when he was 32 and was a county prosecutor.

Moore has been about as successful as Bill Clinton was in trying to brush away the unflattering attention.

As we have seen with far too much frequency in recent times, sexual misconduct seems to be as prevalent as mosquitos at a cookout. Newspapers and news broadcasts are filled with these stunning, and sickening, reports.

We learned Sunday about a team doctor sexually abusing Olympics gymnast Aly Raisman while U.S. team officials did too little to protect her and teammate McKayla Maroney and other girls.

We have learned about the actions of Hollywood producers, prominent actors, TV celebrities, journalists, Iowa Legislature employees, school teachers and coaches across our state, national political candidates, and our president(s) --- who have been enveloped in salacious activities/rumors.

Sexual misconduct has been around since the beginning of time. But our reaction to these modern-day reports, unfortunately, seems to depend on which political party each perpetrator belongs to or supports.

And whether Democrats like it or not, it was Bill Clinton who raised the blatant public lie about sexual improprieties to an art form with his stern-faced, directly-to-the-camera statement, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Is it any wonder that Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and far too other people have used the same Clinton defense model?

Is it any wonder that men in positions of influence, authority and dominance have tried to talk their way out of trouble by besmirching the reputations of their victims?

I can remember the FOB's – Friends Of Bill – jumping to Clinton’s defense against the allegations from Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones. I can remember some of his friends characterizing these women as “tramps.”

Clinton wasn’t the first politician or celebrity to engage in affairs or forced sexual contact. But the ease with which he lied and tried to gloss over his improprieties forever stained his record of public service.

Roy Moore is using this same angry-denial technique to defend himself against the allegations made by four women.

He is vehement that he never met or even knew Leigh Corfman, the 14-year-old girl in 1979 whose descriptions about the 32-year-old Moore disrobing and then undressing her have turned the U.S. Senate race upside down.

Like Clinton’s supporters did years ago with their comments about the Arkansas governor’s accusers, Moore’s supporters have viciously attacked the motives and the background of Corfman and the other women who told Washington Post reporters about Moore’s conduct with them nearly 40 years ago.

Many people who are apoplectic at the possibility the super-conservative Moore might win a Senate seat next month should take a deep breath. However, they should recall the way they and lots of Clinton’s defenders tried to minimize his actions back in Arkansas and in that White House encounter with Monica Lewinsky and the blue dress.

Neither political party is the party of saints.

People who have risen to defend Roy Moore – and others who have condemned him – should remember that. So, too, should the people who stood behind Bill Clinton – or who clamored for his removal from office after impeachment charges were brought by the U.S. House.

Far too many people, adults as well as teens, are being abused sexually and are afraid to tell anyone. They need our support when they do come forward, not our condemnation.

And the abusers? Well, we would all be better off if they would just zip it up.

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at

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