From Donald Trump to Andrew Cuomo: Powerful Men’s Sexual Misconduct Always Comes At Working Women’s Expense

Photo by Waldemar Brandt

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was recently dragged on Twitter for the three-year-old resignation of former Senator Al Franken. The reason?

Senator Gillibrand missed a vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which stood no chance of passing due to a Republican filibuster.

While Gillibrand, a long decried “#MeToo Senator,” was hounded on Twitter for missing the vote, former Senator Al Franken was somehow brought into the conversation and painted as a tragic hero who would have “shown up” for the vote.

Demonizing women in power, especially women who dare to hold men responsible for their actions, is nothing new. What’s shocking, albeit unsurprising at this point, is the Twittersphere’s willful forgetfulness when it comes to Franken’s behavior, which was literally caught on tape, and powerful men like him.

Public sentiment regarding our new presidential administration and the #MeToo movement often dominate media conversations on women’s rights and liberation. Even so, Congress has yet to pass legislation that would make a fundamental difference in our lives, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act. Meanwhile, women continue to fight tooth and nail for the same rights as we did decades ago, namely abortion access and and legal protections from discrimination and sexual harassment at work. This intersects immensely with our society’s cavalier attitudes toward sexual abuse and abusers.

While the sexist smear campaign against Senator Gillibrand will eventually subside, President Biden’s Department of Justice recently set a dangerous precedent that could make matters a lot worse for women, especially for one who was sexually assaulted by the former president of the United States.

Earlier this summer, the DOJ announced that it will continue defending Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit regarding an incident of sexual assault. Filed by author and Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll who accused Trump of sexual assault in her book, the case is now at risk of dismissal after the DOJ stated in a brief last week that Trump could not be sued for defamation, claiming he was “Speaking to the public and press on matters of public concern,” and that, “is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job.”

In other words, Trump — someone who has openly bragged about committing sexual assault — used the oval office to publicly malign, intimidate and further harm his victims. As of today, Carroll is left with little to no legal recourse.

It’s no secret that forgetfulness and ambivalence toward abusers extends far beyond the executive and legislative branches. However, the past month has provided some particularly egregious examples.

Despite sexual assault and harassment scandals at mainstream networks like NBC and CBS, outlets like CNN seem to be following in their footsteps. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is back to work and partying with colleagues after he was caught masturbating on a Zoom call last year. Toobin’s CNN co-host Alisyn Camerota was awkwardly forced to rehash the incident with Toobin on air. Naturally, the road at CNN leads me to Chris and Andrew Cuomo.

According to reports, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo encouraged his brother, Governor Andrew Cuomo, “to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office,” for multiple sexual abuse allegations. “At one point, Chris Cuomo used the phrase ‘cancel culture’ as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations…” Although ten women and counting have come forward about their experiences working for Governor Cuomo, he is currently celebrating respectable approval ratings.

In reality, cancel culture is more likely to ruin careers for those who have actually experienced sexual assault and harassment and come forward, rather than the abusers who commit the acts themselves.

Over 70 percent of women who experience workplace sexual harassment either leave their jobs or say that the abuse had “disrupted their career advancement.” As of today, the 10 survivors who have publicly come forward with allegations against Governor Cuomo each face respective stigma and state-sanctioned smear campaigns.

Last week’s DOJ brief regarding E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit only further cemented the status quo. This places women in toxic and polarizing situations of enduring abuse or attempting to stop the abuse by reporting it, which is almost always followed with retaliation. Data shows links between workplace sexual harassment and dwindling future employment prospects, as well as “depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or a greater risk of long-term health issues.”

For anyone concerned about career prospects for sexual abusers like Andrew Cuomo, Al Franken and Donald Trump, rest assured, they are better than fine. The women they assault, intimidate and harass? Less so.

Elisa Batista is a mother of two teenagers and a campaign director with the digital gender justice organization UltraViolet.

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