A Balancing Act

Tara Reade's accustations against Joe Biden deserve close attention, but not in the absence of due process for the accused.


image from Bloomberg.com

Jonathan Ross, Co-Editor-in-Chief

A woman’s ability to freely speak out in the face of sexual assault and harassment is an absolute necessity. The female voice is imperative to the larger struggle to find equality in all aspects of the male-dominated field of politics.

That is why it is so entirely important that all levels of government employees–from mere staffers to the president–afford women proper respect.  This ranges from maintaining respectful personal boundaries to actively working against those convicted of sexual assault.

It is also important, however, to provide the appropriate due process to those who have been accused of impropriety.  The failure to do so delegitimizes the judicial process and can potentially undermine women’s rights movement as a whole.

Note that, in writing this, I am in no way victim-blaming, diminishing the bravery that it takes for a woman to report sexual assault, or otherwise attempting to make excuses for my sex. As a white male, I do lack a perspective that only women will have on the issue of female harassment in politics, but I am proud to be a member of the political party that has a history of encouraging women to speak up, appropriately investigating accusations of sexual impropriety, examining evidence objectively, and seeking to procure justice for victims of sexual assault. 

The incumbent president, however, cannot make the same claims. He currently has 25 accusations against him, ranging from sexual harassment to rape, and recently tweeted that he missed “the great Roger Ailes,” the discredited sexual predator who was formerly CEO of Fox News. After nominating a Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who would also be accused of sexual harassment, Trump worked with the Senate to give the FBI only one week to investigate Kavanaugh.

The Democratic Party was quick to investigate the allegations against both of Trump and Kavanaugh, hoping to immediately establish party-wide solidarity, not just for Trump’s and Kavanaugh’s accusers but also sexual assault victims of any kind. This support, however, can careen out of control and turn sour when due process for the accused is compromised and allegations are not fully vetted.

In June of 2017, Al Franken, a prominent US senator, resigned after sexual assault allegations were leveled against him. Specifically, Franken was accused of inappropriate touching and groping by six women, with a single 2006 photograph introduced as evidence. Franken was immediately pressured out of the Senate without a real exercise in due process, as Democratic leaders released statements condemning his alleged behavior and effectively ended his career. Nearly all of the female Democrats in the Senate supported this move, and a majority of the men did as well, setting a precedent of zero tolerance for allegations of sexual assault in the Democratic Party.

Three years later, however, this precedent now threatens to tear the party apart, only six months away from the most important election in modern US history. I’m speaking, of course, about Tara Reade’s recent allegations against Joe Biden — where she claims that the Democratic presidential nominee had digitally penetrated her in 1993 when she worked under him in the Senate. Even more so than in the Franken case, however, questions abound regarding Reade’s credibility and there is limited corroborating evidence.  One of Reade’s neighbors, Lynda LaCasse, and a co-worker, Lorraine Sanchez, both say that Reade told them she had been fired from a job for reporting sexual harassment, although neither recall that Biden was identified as the perpetrator.

To date, Reade has changed her account several times, initially coming forward in 2019 with a group of seven women complaining about Biden’s notoriously touchy mannerisms, from stroking women’s hair to placing a hand on their necks. Later in 2019, Reade suggested that slightly more egregious harassment had taken place, citing this as a reason that she had turned down an offer to serve cocktails at a 1993 campaign event. In 2020, Reade claimed that she had submitted a formal complaint against Biden, which still did not allege penetration. The complaint, however, is missing–Reade didn’t retain a copy of it and it wasn’t filed in the National Archives, which is a requirement for complaints of this nature.

This complaint is also alleged to have led to Reade losing her job. In an interview with The Union, she mentioned that she faced backlash after filing the complaint, and was fired by Biden’s Chief of Staff. This, again, contradicts her earlier story, which suggested she left immediately after she refused to work at the party.

Even beyond the contradictions, Democrats in defense of Biden were quick to point out other discrepancies, citing her dubious timing, as she released her statement only weeks after Biden became the nominee; her recently newfound support for Bernie Sanders, Biden’s main rival; and her lack of transparency on the subject, refusing multiple interviews for reasons of “security”.  It was also pointed out by the National Review that Tara Reade has, in the past, exaggerated and fabricated details regarding her own abusive relationship and has used emotional manipulation to avoid rent payments.

Still, it’s important to note that all of these oddities are explicable, and Reade’s position is certainly tenable. Because of this, dismissing her entirely would be a betrayal to values of the Democratic Party, putting it on par with Republicans who have repeatedly ignored accusations of sexual assault in their ranks, including those against Trump. Tara Reade’s accusations therefore absolutely deserve to be taken seriously, but so too does Biden’s defense.

The Democratic nominee first responded to the claims on May 1st, weeks after they were initially released, simply saying that it “never, never happened.” His self-defense was admittedly limited, but he didn’t need to say much, considering the overwhelming support he received from former staffers. Seventy-four staffers came to Biden’s defense, all claiming that the workplace environment under him was equitable and empowering. While several women did mention his touchy-feely nature, they described it as entirely “non-sexual” and noted that it ceased immediately upon request.

Firsthand accounts are promising, but they still do not serve to entirely discredit Reade’s claims, and transparency over the next few weeks on behalf of the Biden team will be utterly necessary to quell remaining doubts. Even this, however, may not enough to persuade staunch believers of Reade’s accusations. It’s important, then, to examine both Biden’s past and his potential, to understand why giving him the benefit of due process is so important. 

In the past, Biden has been a champion for women both as a senator and a vice-president. In 1990, he wrote the Violence Against Women Act, a revolutionary bill for its time that created hotlines, shelters, and crisis centers for victims of domestic abuse. Later, in 2009, he founded the “It’s on Us” movement, a funded campaign dedicated to ending sexual violence on college and university campuses. He also helped in the fight for equal pay and access to education and debt-relief for women, and he promises to keep fighting.

His campaign website outlines his future plans, though his proposed legislation isn’t the only way he promises to protect women. As president, Biden potentially would be able to re-balance the currently skewed Supreme Court, sitting at a 5-4 Republican majority. The next nomination will be imperative in protecting key women’s rights in considering cases that could challenge the precedents of Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut, which guaranteed a woman’s right to privacy and, in turn, legalized abortion and contraceptives, respectively.

Biden’s impressive record and the opportunity that his candidacy presents would never compensate for sexual assault, should Tara Reade’s claims be proven true. They do, however, show the importance of giving all those accused a chance to defend themselves. It would be a shame to negate what Biden has achieved without proper evidence, and it would be a travesty of justice to eliminate his chances at furthering women’s rights without due process.