How the Clintons' connection to sexual assault relates to a campus culture of silence

    Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be talking about sexual assault. Clinton has recently been lambasted by Donald Trump for “enabling” husband Bill Clinton to assault women. To date, he’s been publicly accused of sexual assault by three women, and settled out of court with one of them, Paula Jones, for $850,000. Blaming Hillary diffuses Bill’s responsibility as the perpetrator and makes it harder to call Bill’s behavior what it is: a man in a position of power abusing vulnerable women. That is the narrative we as college students should be focusing on.

    Hillary is not responsible for Bill’s behavior, but she is guilty of sweeping the allegations against him under the proverbial rug to further her political career. One is a crime, the other a drop in the gray morass that is political morality. At Northwestern, the same principles of power and rape culture apply. Roughly one in four women are assaulted during college. Despite the prevalence, sexual assault cases are often mishandled. Northwestern is no exception-- despite the heightened attention sexual assault has received after four assaults were reported in nine days, it’s hard to see any follow-up from the administration. When a freshman recently staged a protest on campus over the treatment of her sexual assault case and then left Northwestern, the University did not comment or address the systems at play that allow allow perpetrators to walk free and keep victims silent, or push them off of this campus.

    Rape culture implicitly puts the burden of proof on the victims. Bill Clinton’s largely been able to escape allegations of sexual assault scot-free. As a wealthy and successful public figure, he’s free to sit on the hoards of money under the umbrella of the Clinton Foundation and make occasional tone-deaf appearances on the Hillary campaign trail. Bill Clinton’s guilt, as of any wealthy and powerful man, is hard to prove. Hillary’s candidacy and morality are separate from the details of Bill’s alleged crimes. The same principle applies on college campuses: Victims are often put under intense scrutiny should they choose to pursue charges against their attacker.

    Voicing support for victims of sexual assault in the way that Hillary has is harmful because it contradicts her treatment of Bill’s alleged victims. Juanita Broaddrick, who claims Bill raped her in 1978 when he was attorney general of Arkansas, said that Hillary approached her after the assault and pointedly ‘thanked her’ for everything she did for Bill. Clinton’s personal choice to support Bill is just that: personal. It does, however, invalidate her claims today that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported.” When claims for support of victims are limited to a handful of nice-sounding slogans – much like the banners of many of Northwestern’s IFC chapters – it allows the supporter to feel morally validated and takes attention away from the victims. Automatic support for victims is a powerful sentiment, but it’s very clear when it’s just for appearances.

    Executive director of SHAPE and Weinberg junior Molly Benedict said she believes one of the most harmful elements of rape culture is the reluctance to believe victims.

    “There’s a really horrible myth about false accusations of sexual assault, but they’re as rare as accusations of any other crime – 8 to 10 percent of the time,” Benedict said. “The majority of the time believing the victim is something we should automatically do.”

    Medill assistant professor and journalist Michele Weldon said she believes Hillary should not be condemned for Bill’s sins, and that the lack of conclusive evidence complicates the line between guilt and innocence.

    “I’m not qualified to call her an enabler,” she said. “Rape is never justifiable or explainable – no matter who commits it, it’s a crime.”

    Benedict said she believes change will only come when believing the victim becomes the automatic response, and when more of the community – beyond activists – becomes involved in finding solutions. The current system puts too much pressure on the victims who choose to press charges by requiring them to be the ones to change their living situations or class schedules to avoid encountering their attacker, she said. “Kobe Bryant, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby – in positions of power we’re more likely to turn a blind eye and disbelieve the survivors,” she said. “We need to go beyond dialogue into action.”


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