Augustine: #MeToo applies to Joe Biden


Kathryn Augustine, Opinion Editor

“This never happened,” Joe Biden said, in regards to a recent sexual assault allegation against him. After remaining silent for an extended period of time, Biden addressed the public and released a statement on May 1 denying any responsibility.

On April 9, Tara Reade, who worked as a junior officer for Joe Biden’s Senate office, filed a criminal complaint accusing Biden of sexual assault in 1993. Reade said Biden forced her against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers because he believed she was romantically interested.

According to the Minnesota Law Review, 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault or rape cases are falsely reported. Also, at least 90 percent of rape cases go unreported to authorities. This means that the volume of false reports in relation to the total number of sexual assault or rape cases — those reported and unreported — is closer to 0.02 to 0.08 percent. Thus, every allegation against a man in power cannot be the statistical “exception,” or the innocent man who is unjustifiably targeted.

In spite of these statistics, Reade’s allegation has been met with skepticism.

“Love of Russia and Putin”: This is a reason cited by USA Today opinion columnist Michael Stern for questioning Tara Reade’s sexual assault claim against Joe Biden. Her “sexual infatuation” with Putin and oscillating support for Russia’s president, according to Stern, could be indicative of emotional instability.

There’s no denying that Reade has spoken quite favorably about Putin in the past. However, are attitudes regarding Russia pressingly relevant to sexual assault? Are women who previously supported Putin miraculously priviliged and exempted from experiencing sexual violence?

Some of Stern’s concerns are understandable. For instance, Reade said that she reported Biden’s harassment to his executive assistant and top aides and yet, these individuals deny hearing such a report. That discrepancy is valid to puzzle over.

However, stating Biden has not been accused of sexual assault by other women or that Reade has retweeted posts praising Biden are additional insufficient reasons to discredit Reade’s vulnerable narrative of assault.

Disbelief, unwielding defense of the accused and questioning the credibility of the victim or survivor are staples of sexual assault allegations. Believing, or even attempting to believe women, is regularly absent in the masses. That is unfortunately expected.

What is unusual here, and perhaps of even greater concern, is that some women associated with #MeToo seem to be writing off the possibility that Reade is speaking her truth. This is apparent in the words of Alyssa Milano.

In 2017, Milano tweeted #MeToo to create a sense of solidarity and community among victims and survivors of sexual assault. On April 29, she penned an op-ed for Deadline justifying her continued support for Biden amidst the controversy.

Milano classifies the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby as objectively wrong. However, when describing the possibly incriminating actions of Biden, Milano asserts that Biden cannot be categorized in that black-and-white manner. Biden remains a person that she respects and admires.

My question for Milano is, what gives Biden the right to this exception? Because he’s a Democrat? Because he’s a better option than Trump for president?

If you are an advocate for #MeToo, as Milano brands herself to be, then no accused individual is pardoned. No one accused is exempted from critique or scrutinization.

I refuse to declare that I actively support Biden if he has outstanding accusations of sexual assault. I view Biden in the same light as Kavanaugh, even if Milano cannot.

On top of that, the overarching goal of #MeToo is to empower survivors. There is nothing empowering about advocates publicly proclaiming support for someone who is accused of violating another. Those “advocates” are blatantly hypocritical and no better than Stern, who used Reade’s connection to Russia to cast doubt on her narrative in his piece.

The effectiveness of #MeToo is substantially diminished when those who identify as supporters turn a blind eye. Picking and choosing who is held accountable and who can be “canceled” places an even larger target on the movement. If people did not support #MeToo previously, the flexibility surrounding Biden will give those individuals yet another reason not to do so.

I understand the decision to vote for Biden with the justification that Biden is better than his adversaries. However, don’t cast a vote for Biden and then dismiss Reade’s accusations to assuage any guilt. You can vote for Biden and acknowledge Reade’s pain. This may mean, however, that to get Trump out of office, we may be letting down yet another survivor.

Kathryn Augustine is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.