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Why has a sexual assault accusation against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee fallen by the wayside?

The rise of the #MeToo movement in the late 2010s allowed for past survivors of sexual assault to have his or her claims to be investigated and supported. Many around the U.S. and globe cheered this movement toward protecting sexual assault survivors and holding perpetrators accountable, albeit without its fair share of critics and cynics. Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement has become another casualty of the toxic, partisan political and media landscape the U.S. confronts today. 

Since the allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein dragged the #MeToo movement to the center of the national discussion on sexual assault in 2017, a wave of survivors finally found the confidence to speak up. The women who spoke out about the assault committed against them by Weinstein in the entertainment industry detailed the harrowing accounts of the abuse and the cover-up that Weinstein orchestrated for decades to prevent his survivors from coming forward with their claims. This all culminated in the subsequent firing and legal prosecution and conviction of Weinstein by a New York jury in February 2020. 

While some would criticize the movement as political and lacking due process for those accused of assault, pointing to Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation hearings. Christine Ford’s Senate testimony accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault during a high school party exposed #MeToo to the highly partisan political and media environment, to the detriment of Ford and #MeToo. In essence, during the hearings in 2018, those supporting Ford were presumed to be left-leaning individuals, and those questioning her were often right-wing supporters of Kavanaugh — without any room for any compromise or civility. 

Fast forward to Spring 2020. 

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for the November general election against Donald Trump. Democrats and others who dislike the current administration are now eager to get Biden elected as president — increasingly at whatever means necessary, as Tara Reade sadly demonstrates. 

Last year, Tara Reade, a former staffer for Joe Biden’s Senate office in D.C. in the early 1990s, accused Biden of inappropriate touching that made her feel uncomfortable. More recently, Reade has further accused Biden of penetrating her in the halls of a Senate office building and the accused the then office staff of indifference toward her claim. 

As harrowing as Reade’s claim is, it took her a much longer time for a major press organization to take her story. In fact, it wasn’t until March that Tara Reade was able to come forward in a podcast interview posted on SoundCloud, which seems like a dubious place to be if one’s accusing a man running for president of rape. 

It took The New York Times about a month of investigation before it was able to publish anything substantial about the allegation. During that time, there were few in the media and government who questioned Biden or Reade about the allegations. The indifference of elites was so blatant that it wasn’t until May that Biden even bothered to respond to the claim on MSNBC’s Morning Joe — which only further allowed the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to simply push back on the claims. This isn’t something that’s indicative of a leader who wants to have a society that believes survivors when they decide to come forward with their case, and I wish the media and her supporters would press Pelosi to be more sincere about Reade’s case. 

This is a serious contrast to the treatment of Ford and other survivors who’ve come forward in the past few years. The media and politicians have — with assumed honesty and sincerity — voiced their desire to hear out sexual assault survivors with great passion. The media and left-leaning partisans have remained loyal to Biden and have repeatedly questioned and slandered Reade’s allegations — totally against what #MeToo has fought to protect. Reade even described her experience since coming forward as full of harassment and cynicism on the part of many members of the media. 

Whether or not Reade’s ultimately telling the truth about her case, the damage done to protecting and believing sexual assault survivors has already occurred. This case provides a cautionary tale about partisanship and how it’s now able to poison even something that shouldn’t involve politics at all. I urge everyone who wants to have a society that provides a balance of compassion for victims and due process rights for the accused to do better than simply ignore one’s claim for political expediency. 

Andrey Chun is senior International Affairs and Economics double major. Contact Andrey at chunsaax@dukes.jmu.edu.