I feel exploited. And I feel sick.
I’m sick of pedophiles. I’m sick of rapists. I’m sick of sexual violence and sexual predators. I am sick of being reminded moment after moment of the times — yes plural — that I have been shocked out of my body, stripped of my power and deprived of the right to defend my own body by a man sexually forcing himself onto me. More than that, I’m sick of my traumas and the traumas of other survivors being exploited for political gain and emotional satisfaction on both the left and the right. Physically. Sick.
I am sick to know that I cannot protect myself or my daughter from the pussy grabbing woman hater that controls every single law and policy that guides this nation. I am sick to know that Roy Moore exists on this planet and that there are millions of people supportive of a known pedophile holding power over millions upon millions of women and girls in the state of Alabama and the United States. I am sick that a member of the Trump campaign and former state Senator in Oklahoma plead guilty to child trafficking.
And I am sick that people like Leeanne Tweeden feel comfortable enough to take the traumas of the women and children that have been the true victims of sexual violence and used them for her own personal gains and the political goals of the Republican Party.
Leeanne Tweeden is the woman that recently accused Al Franken of sexually violating her at a rehearsal for a USO comedy show in 2006. Her decision to take her story public after 10 years of “silence” has been framed by both the left and the right as a survivors’ act of bravery that demands immediate attention and strict consequences.
I see Leeanne Tweeden’s actions quite differently.
What Leeanne Tweeden has done is stolen the very real traumas of very survivors — people like me — and mocked them. What she has done is taken our pain and our bravery and our strength and exploited it on behalf of a network of people that actively prey on the women and children she is pretending to show solidarity with. What she is doing is vile and it is disgusting and it is dangerous on every personal and political level associated with sexual assault in the United States.
Perhaps if she was, in fact, a survivor of sexual assault she would understand the damage that is being caused by her actions. But she is not a survivor. And she is definitely not a victim of Al Franken.
Leeanne was never raped. She was never assaulted. And she was never the victim of sexual violence or harassment. She was a willing and active participant in a comedy show that involved sexualized behaviors. She consented to participating. She actively engaged in and invited similar behaviors with other performers other than Al Franken at the event.
As recently and clearly described by journalist S. Novi:
“Both SNL and USO stage skits are well-known to be over the top when it comes to topics such as sex, but the USO performances are even more so due to the audience of mostly military males. Since the days of Bob Hope, there have always been beautiful bombshell women showing up in scanty outfits and sexual dialogue running from innuendos to outright blatant views. If you are either a male or female performing in these shows you are expected to play along.
…. there are a number of images as well as videos appearing that show that Tweeden didn’t seem to have a problem with sexual performances on stage including that of her grabbing the butt of a Country and Western performer and rubbing her behind up against him and the singer grabbing at her butt. Additional videos of the tour have included a very sexual performance with the comedian Robin Williams as well as the real on-stage ‘kiss’ with Franken.
In this case, we have a woman that signed up for known sexually oriented skits and performances that she approved of, and rehearsed, and then performed many of them onstage in both a preplanned and ad hoc way.”
Leanne Tweeden was a consenting and contracted performer for the USO then, just as she is a contracted performer for the right wing now. She was not then and is not now a survivor. She was not then and is not now a victim of Al Franken.
Al Franken’s tasteless joke didn’t make her fear for her life. It didn’t make her burn the clothes she was wearing that night. It didn’t make her scrub herself clean in the shower until her skin tore off. This joke didn’t keep her up shaking and puking and sobbing on the floor of a shower as she bled down a drainpipe. It didn’t send her to the clinic for STD tests.
Al Franken’s joke didn’t crush her notion of who she was or how she could walk in this world. This joke didn’t give her PTSD or depression or any of the lasting forms of struggle that true rape and assault victims must face minute by minute. It hasn’t informed every relationship she’s had since. And it wasn’t in any way what so ever a form of rape, assault or even harassment.
Leeanne Tweeden was not then and is not now a victim. A very large part of me wishes she had been, though.
As a survivor and active member in the struggle to protect and progress civil rights in the United States, I have a track-record of confronting both the Democratic and the Republican party for abuses. If Tweeden was a victim of a violent and predatory Al Franken, I would have stood right by her side and called for an investigation of the Senator and his immediate removal from office. I would have gladly lumped his name into a category with Roy Moore and Donald Trump and Roger Ailes and Henry Weinstein. I would have written an article about how we can’t entrust or bodies to legislators that will assault our women and children and legally enable the predators to get away with similar crimes no matter what side of the aisle we come from.
She is not a victim. She is not an ally. And she is not a survivor. Those words have meaning. Those words hold weight. And she has not earned her right to wear those badges.
What Tweeden is, is a willing participant in a new skit in which the Republican Party uses her completely normal interaction with Al Franken as an excuse to accuse a Democratic Senator of sexual assault, deflect from the charges of rape and pedophilia in the highest ranks of their own party, and test drive a strategy by which they can gain increasing amounts of power by exploiting the sexual traumas of women and children.
And their plan is working. Almost inexplicably.
Politics isn’t a game of morality. Clearly. Wins and losses are accomplished on the basis of strategy. And right now, the Democratic Party is letting a pussy grabbing steak salesman and a bigoted gun toting pedophile out-strategize them with some of the most remedial and ridiculous strategies in the book: deflection.
For example, these lines of argument may sound familiar:
It’s the left that is racially dividing the country, not the alt-right. It’s the Clinton’s relationship with Russia that is suspicious, not Trump’s. It is the left that has destroyed healthcare, not the GOP. The Democrats are the Party of the KKK, not the Republicans.
That’s because one of the most common rhetorical strategies employed by the Republican Party is to deflect an accusation by turning the charges on them around to the accuser. And as common and predictable as this strategy is — the Democrats still haven’t come up with a consistent method to counter it.
Just as in any game of competition, and especially political competition, one side can only succeed if the other side fails to stop them. And fail is exactly what the Democrats are doing. Failing.
Rather than taking a stand against the exploitation of sexual assault survivors, they are allowing the Republican Party to use our trauma as a cover to advance their own political agendas. Worse, they have taken the political bait hook, line, and sinker and rather than launching a full-scale counterattack on the GOP, they have turned on themselves and started calling for the resignation of a member of their own party.
Rather than focusing on accusations against Donald Trump, Roy Moore or Ralph Shorty — the attention is turned onto Minnesota Senator Al Franken. Not only do the Republicans succeed in turning the attention away from themselves, but they succeed in turning the Democrats against each other. And the final narrative becomes:
It’s not the Republican Party supporting pussy grabbers and pedophilia. It’s the Democrats!
The Democratic Party is practically handing the nation’s women and children over to pedophiles and rapists simply because they asked them to. And if we let Senators like Al Franken — representatives that have voting records filled with support for women’s rights — fall to pedophiles like Roy Moore, then we are allowing the real traumas of exploited women be used as an excuse to put more women and girls in harm’s way.
This is what terrifies me most.
One of the key functions of the Democratic Party is supposed to be to protect its constituents and the nation from attacks by the Republican Party. They are supposed to have an exhaustive list of narratives strong enough to counter the most complex of political accusations, in addition to this predictable, rookie-level attempt to lump Al Franken into the same category as Roy Moore. They are supposed to have the media and legal prowess attuned enough to protect both the leaders and the members of the Democratic party from these predictable but incredibly dangerous attacks. The Democratic Party is supposed to ensure that a pussy grabber and a party of pedophiles don’t get to control how we talk about sexual violence let alone what we do about it.
And they have failed to execute their duties. In fact, they’re carrying out the agenda of the Republican Party for them.
The Democrats and members of the left have called for the removal of Senator Franken and an investigation into Tweeden’s right wing backed accusations. They have failed to protect true victims of sexual assault from Republican exploitation. They refused to counter the narrative that Al Franken’s completely legally, nonviolent and consensual interactions with Leanne Tweeden should be equated with sexual harassment, assault and pedophilia. And they have all but totally succumb to calls for the investigation and removal of Al Franken.
It clearly cannot be denied that sexual violence exists on both sides of the political aisle, but it is the Republican Party that has perfected the technique of weaponizing and exploiting these traumas for their own personal gain. It also cannot be denied that the Republican Party is on the offense when it comes to applying this repugnant tactic.
If the Democrats can’t figure out how to counter this most obvious and basic strategy to use sexual assault as a front to advance their political agendas and damage the Democratic Party, then this strategy is likely to destroy the standing of more than just Al Franken.
There is no shortage of Tweedens standing in line to gain 5 minutes of fame and a right-wing paycheck to be used as a grenade to blow up the next Democratic target. And there is no shortage of targets. If the Democratic party continues to let the Republican Party beat them with the most obvious and low hanging strategies, what hope do we have that they can counter any of the more complex attacks on this nation and the people in it? If the Democratic Party keeps allowing the Republican Party to blur the lines between sexual violence and sexualized behavior, they are putting more women and children in the hands of unthinkably powerful predators — and they are paving the path for the destruction of the entire Democratic Party at their violent and perverse hands.
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