Sexual Assault Allegations, Al Gore and the Media

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action & the Media, and my lovely co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape does a video to accompany her amazing article at The Nation, “How the Media Should Treat the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Al Gore.” (Transcript after the jump)

Nearly a month ago, the National Enquirer broke the news that a massage therapist in Oregon claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Al Gore. Since then, the media has snickered, rolled its eyes, and steadfastly refused to report the story. Instead, they’ve trotted out excuses in Gore’s defense, often treating it as a simple choice between defending Gore’s integrity or indulging in a base appetite for celebrity scandal, as if there wasn’t a real possibility that a real 54-year-old woman had suffered a very real and violent assault.I get it. Sexual assault is scary. We want to think it could never happen to us or anyone we love—or could be committed by anyone we respect. We want to avoid thinking about it so much that we weave a web of soothing fiction: she wanted it, what did she expect in her line of work, she’s obviously just after his money. And, of course: he’s a really good guy. He would never do something like that.

It’s natural to want to imagine the perpetrators of sexual violence as monsters. It’s a monstrous act, after all. But sexual predators aren’t monsters. They’re people. They can be handsome and seem kind. They can kiss their wives in public and mean it. They can be brothers, boyfriends, best buddies, talented film directors, beloved athletes, trusted priests and, yes, even lefty political heroes who seem like genuinely nice guys.As I write in my essay on TheNation.com, the excuses used to cast doubt on the victim’s credibility are easily debunked. But the “credibility” question itself is a red herring. Why, in cases of sexual violence, is the victim assumed guilty of lying until proven innocent? We assume that people who say they’ve been victims of robberies or kidnappings are credible enough to report on unless there’s clear evidence to the contrary. Barring that, it’s the media’s responsibility – and our own – to take allegations of sexual violence seriously.

I don’t know if Gore did what he’s been accused of, and neither do you. But when we ignore cases like this, we send a terrible message to the victims of powerful men everywhere: that they’re just not important enough to care about. And we tell those powerful men that they can treat women however they want to, so long as they look good in a suit and make a convincing powerpoint slideshow.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/hollynichols/ Holly

    People wonder why women don’t report sexual harassment. If it’s hard for people to believe that sexual assault exists, then maybe our media should start questioning why. It’s awful to not take sexual assault seriously, it makes women, as you said, afraid to say anything when they could look like liars searching for attention. This is disgusting. It’s like saying, “Oh she deserved rape because she was wearing a mini skirt.” This takes us back like thirty years. I’m really offended by the medias lack of care about this woman’s allegation. And yes, we don’t know if it’s true or false, but we should be trying to find that out. Thank you for posting this.