Progress Slow for Prosecution of U.S. Politicians for Sexual Misconduct or Abuse
Recently, we have seen a meteoric rise in sexual allegations against top tier members of American society from movie stars and producers to businessmen, politicians, and even the President himself. In the past year, we’ve seen at least eight top level politicians, across the aisle, accused of or charged with sexual misconduct. However, instead of facing consequences or prosecution of these offenses, these top-level politicians seem to face different levels of scrutiny and punishment. Though everyone is supposed to be on the same level in the eyes of the law, it seems that these high-powered individuals seem to face much less scrutiny than the average person accused of sexual misconduct or assault.
In D.C. alone there are four different types of convictions for crimes of sexual abuse as well as a potential misdemeanor charge that they could receive. The D.C. Code 23-3001 defines any sexual act as:
(1) the penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva of another by a penis,
(2) contact between the mouth and the penis, the mouth and the vulva, or the
mouth and the anus, or (3) the penetration, however, slight, of the anus or vulva
by a hand or finger or by any object, with intent to abuse, humiliate, harass,
degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.
It also defines sexual contact as “touching with any clothed or unclothed body part or any object, either directly or indirectly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of another person.” D.C. Criminal Code 22-3001. If a person engages another in a sexual act and uses force against another person in the process of this act, he or she can be convicted of first degree sexual abuse in D.C, which if found guilty, may result in a fine of $250,000 or a sentence of up to 30 years imprisonment. For second degree sexual abuse, the prosecution must prove the alleged perpetrator threated or put the victim in reasonable fear in order to force the act upon them. A person convicted of second degree sexual assault can face a maximum fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for up to 20 years. Persons convicted of these crimes become convicted felons and lose their right to vote, own firearms, and are most likely placed on a sexual predator list warning others in their area of their crimes for the rest of their lives.
These offenses are very serious crimes that should be treated and prosecuted fully to help victims gain some level of closure feel safe again. Yet, all too often we see Senators and high level politicians alleged to have committed these crimes but escaping prosecution. For example, Representative John Conyers, the longest serving member of Congress, has faced several allegations by multiple victims of sexual conduct and harassment. And, other than a $27,000 settlement to one supposed victim, he has faced no real consequences. And, rather than face potential criminal charges, he simply chose to resign his seat as more and more allegations were made. In even greater absurdity, Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, was accused of sexual harassment of a female coworker, and then proceeded to provide her a settlement to not move further in her allegations. The settlement was paid using Texan taxpayer money. He has stated he plans to pay the money back, but as of now there has been no indication that anything of that nature has occurred. In fact, between 2008 to 2012, the House of Representatives payed $115,000 in taxpayer money in order to settle claims made against members for sexual harassment and retaliation. I’m sure any other person accused of sexual abuse or harassment would love the “luxury” of buying their way out in order to avoid charges against them using the hard-earned money of other tax-paying constituents instead of digging in their own pockets. But, unlike these politicians, they do not get this “luxury.”
More recently, two White House aides quit their positions after allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse. Staff secretary Rob Porter resigned from the position after his ex-wives made allegations of physical and emotional abuse. Additionally, White House aide David Sorensen quit after his ex-wife alleged physical abuse.
It has been a slow move towards stopping top-level politicians from buying their way out of blatant abuse and sexual misconduct. We, as a society, are finally starting to put our collective foot down and say the buck stops here. Anthony Weiner, U.S. Congressman, this past September, was convicted to 21 month imprisonment for texting sexual messages to a teenage girl. While Weiner’s sentence is a step in the right direction, many other abusers still get to walk away free, albeit with their wallets slightly lighter than they were before. It is truly inspiring to see so many victims finally standing up against those who oppressed and used them for so long. Their bravery is simply the first step, as a society, we must acknowledge survivor stories and we must actually hold these persons fully accountable for the horrendous acts that they have committed.