Governmental Rape Apology: An Obstruction in the Advancement of Sexual Assault Legislation

By: Katarina A. Hernández

“I’m not going to resign because of allegations. The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic.” This pervasive perspective has allowed those holding positions of power accused of sexual misconduct to remain in their roles of influence absent meaningful accountability. Although many government leaders are elected, voters have no power to rescind their vote after an elected official has been accused of sexual misconduct during their term. Allowing sexual predators to retain their governmental positions not only impacts the individual victims whose allegations are met with public scrutiny and rape apology by government officials, but also society at large, which faces a substantial halt in the advancement of sexual assault legislation.

Rising social awareness of sexual assault in the past several years led individuals to flood the streets and take to social media platforms to profess their support of survivors and demand change. Historically, sexual assault legislation has made strides in expanding the definition of rejectable advances and who can allege that they are a victim of sexual assault to conform with social perception. Sexual assault and rape are the most underreported crimes, with approximately 65% of sexual assaults never being reported to the police. One common reason survivors choose not to report is the societal scrutiny many face when they do so, including mistreatment and harsh disbelief. Despite social outcry, the state and federal governments in recent years have done little to advance sexual assault legislation to remedy the current laws’ shortcomings. But why? Examining some prominent leaders in these positions of power and their perspectives on these issues offers a potential answer.

Each branch of the federal government plays a vital role in the creation, enforcement, and interpretation of laws. An aristocratic method of ruling runs contrary to our system of government; however, when each branch is comprised of officials who hold the same pernicious perspective, checks and balances is ineffective in preventing government leaders’ implicit biases from influencing how the system operates. Therefore, the presence of sexual predators in each branch will inevitably influence decisions regarding the creation, enforcement, and interpretation of sexual assault legislation. Although the issue of sexual misconduct by members of Congress has likely been longstanding and gone unreported, public accusations of sexual misconduct perpetrated by Congressmen has increased exponentially in recent years. In addition, the last presidency was held by President Donald Trump, who openly spoke about his ability to sexually assault women. Lastly, President Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct with multiple women, to the United States Supreme Court. These accusations included in part Kavanaugh’s participation in gang rapes. President Trump brushed off these allegations by calling the controversy a disgrace, publicly attacking Kavanaugh’s accusers on social media, and encouraging Kavanaugh to sue his accusers. The FBI conducted only a limited investigation into these allegations, after which the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Having related to these victims’ stories, the disbelief and animosity Kavanaugh’s accusers faced further encouraged survivors’ decision to not report.

All branches of the federal government host individuals accused of severe sexual misconduct and have self-policed accusations between branches to allow these individuals to retain their positions of power. Leaders in one branch who engage in sexual misconduct have protected those in other branches accused of like behaviors. State governments reflect the same quality of leadership. In the past three years alone, over 100 state legislators have been accused of sexual misconduct. Other prominent state leaders, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have also faced numerous allegations. The effect of hosting sexual predators in our government reaches beyond the continuing perpetration of sexual misconduct by government officials to the continuing perpetration of sexual assault by members of our society as a whole. Sexual predators are unlikely to initiate or support laws that protect against the acts they themselves are committing. Our government must evolve to consist of leaders who better understand issues surrounding sexual assault rather than those engaging in it and endorsing rape apology. Despite the extraordinary strides that social justice movements such as #MeToo have made to end sexual violence, support by the federal and state governments is needed to aid necessary social change. Taking allegations of sexual assault more seriously and not immunizing men in governmental positions from accountability for sexual abuses can reshape the advancement of sexual assault legislation. This advancement can then create an environment where victims of sexual assault feel comfortable coming forward by facilitating favorable societal treatment of survivors and belief in their allegations.

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