Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Petty" allegations

Why do some people insist on describing the Sen. Al Franken's alledged sexual misconduct as "petty" or minor?

The latest example is Michelle Cottle's article, "What Does 'Sexual Misconduct' Mean?," in The Atlantic. the public outrage over sexual misconduct gains force, it is swallowing up an increasingly diverse range of allegations, from the relatively petty (such as those lodged against Franken) to the truly monstrous (such as the claims regarding Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes).
To be clear, Cottle roundly criticizes Sen. Franken's behavior. She also correctly points out that his behavior wasn't as horrendous as some other recent cases.

But "petty?"

The picture he gleefully staged during a 2006 USO tour prior to running for the Senate is both horrible and demeaning. Worse, it was on a CD of photos that were distributed to multiple people, so the victim's shame was compounded.

Sen. Franken subsequently wrote,
There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.
Inappropriate, disgusting, a violation, but definitely not petty. And that's the offender's take.

In short order, four other women (two named, two anonymous) accused Sen. Franken of groping their backsides. Another woman accused him of groping her breast. His original accuser and another woman described unwanted open-mouth kisses, and yet another woman described an attempted open-mouth kiss.

Would other accusers have come forward if Sen. Franken hadn't announced his resignation? Who knows. But aren't eight accusations of sexual assault--a serial pattern of misbehavior--enough?

Sen. Franken's behavior is disappointing on many levels, not least of all because he was an effective advocate for women's issues. He has taken some important remedial steps by apologizing (sort of) and announcing his resignation.

However, his behavior by any objective standard was beyond the pale. It was not a petty offense; it wasn't flirty unwanted attention; it wasn't even close to the line.

It's regrettable that President Trump and others seem to have gotten away with worse behavior--for now. But none of that changes the objective awfulness of Sen. Franken's behavior.