How not to talk about an assault accusation

We don’t always agree with Slate’s William Saletan here at Feministing, but I have to say that I was really disappointed to hear the way he recently discussed an alleged sexual assault. Last week, Saletan was a guest on Slate’s Political Gabfest, the magazine’s excellent weekly politics podcast. At the end of each episode, the panelists offer up a piece of cocktail chatter, some light relief to discuss with friends and fellow party-goers once you’ve put away the big political guns. Here’s what Saletan said when asked for his chatter of choice at the end of the “Groping Duck” edition of the Gabfest:

I have to talk about of course Donald Duck. Donald Duck has been sued, ladies and gentlemen. The person who plays Donald Duck at Disneyworld has had complaint filed, a lawsuit for $50, 000 including PTSD by a woman who claims she was fondled by Donald. This was reported by Gawker with an allusion – the complaint actually cites a previous complaint against Tigger, who was racked up on charges, was arrested, put through trial, twenty-four additional complaints against Tigger. The problem is, Tigger got acquitted, and it turned out to be a total scam. Tigger was totally innocent, and this was, by the way, one of five people playing Tigger, except Disney didn’t want people to know there are five Tiggers because the kids will find out there’s a human inside. So Tigger was innocent, I strongly suspect Donald is innocent. Some people who’ve worked at Disneyworld say to be Donald you’ve gotta be really short, you’ve gotta be a woman, basically. So it’s highly unlikely that the woman playing Donald was groping this woman at Disneyworld, and I hope Donald is exonerated.

Firstly, Saletan’s smart enough to know that the acquittal of one person in a fluffy suit does not guarantee the innocence of another. If that kind of reasoning held any water, we’d never prosecute anyone for armed robbery, or murder or any crime, since people have been falsely accused and acquitted in the past. Is it possible that this is a scam, and that some woman is trying to cheat Disney out of a chunk of change? Sure, it’s possible, but that’s not really the point. Accusations of sexual assault should be taken seriously, and should be fully investigated, not ignored just because someone who worked in the same theme park was once falsely accused of the same crime.

Secondly, Saletan doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that being a woman doesn’t disqualify the person playing Donald Duck from being guilty of the crime in question. Women are capable of sexual assault, too.

Finally, when you listen to the audio, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Saletan finds this story highly amusing. But if the accusations are true, this woman was groped by someone who was on the job and who was wearing what is, despite the fact that it’s furry and cartoon-themed, their work uniform. If it were an MTA employee, or a policeman, or a uniformed security guard being accused of the same crime, would it be quite so amusing? Sexual assault is sexual assault, no matter who does it, no matter what they’re wearing when they do it, and no matter who has been acquitted of it in the past. It’s a serious problem and a accusation, and it should be treated as such.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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