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Did Herman Cain Try To Rape Sharon Bialek?

November 7, 2011

That’s not what the media will tell you, but that is the allegation.

Jill points out that the allegations are not really sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment comes in two varieties: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.  The latter is self-explanatory: “If you want to keep your job, get that ass over here and show me how dedicated you are” is quid pro quo.  Making work a vile cesspit of unwanted sexualization so that women are miserable and quit, or can’t focus and function, is hostile work environment.  But when people uses force to try to impose themselves sexually on others, sexual harassment isn’t the correct term.

Forcing someone to do something sexual by grabbing or restraint is sexual assault.  And make no mistake, that’s what Sharon Bialek describes (h/t Tony in comments at Feministe):

“Instead of going into the offices he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt toward my genitals,” she said.

“He also pushed my head toward his crotch,” she added.

Now, if she had put her mouth on his penis because she was afraid he would hurt her if she didn’t, that’s sexual assault. They were in Washington DC at the time, where if he had successfully forced his penis into her mouth, it would have made out the elements to Sexual Assault in the First Degree, the to or the District’s rape statute structure, or at least Second Degree — depending on how the cases treat threat versus force.  But the AP called it a “bold sexual advance.”

Bold sexual advance?  No.  I know what a bold sexual advance is!  This one time, in college, a woman walked right up to me and said, “so there’s a rumor that you’re a pervert.”*  That, my friends, was a bold sexual advance!  It worked, too.

Attempted rape isn’t a bold sexual advance.  It’s attempted rape.  That’s the allegation, and AP could call the allegation what it is without taking a position on whether it’s true.  (Whether it’s true?  This is the FOURTH woman who has been publicly revealed

Herman Cain isn’t fit to … well, isn’t fit for anything, really.  Trying to force a woman to give him a blowjob disqualifies him from basic human decency.  Fortunately he was never going to win office. 

But the large-scale problem is these media outlets that bend over backwards to euphemize sexual assaults.  What does it take for them to utter the dreaded R word?  Some people say it’s a legal term of art, but that’s not really true.  In many jurisdictions (like D.C., at issue here) there’s no statute called “rape.”  The statutes are called sexual assault or sexual abuse or something else.  I think the real issue is that editors just don’t use it unless it fits their preconceived notions of what a rape is.  And that’s a problem. 

Media outlets should have a clear policy on what to call sexual assault allegations and apply it consistently.

*Unlike some kinksters, that’s not a term I like or try to reclaim.  But that’s a different conversation.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ungeheuer permalink
    November 7, 2011 6:59 pm

    I remember how, while trying to recover from getting sexually assaulted by my boss, I got horrendously bogged down in “What Was It Officially?”-type thinking. Obsessively imagining what the police, or a therapist, or a friend would say if I called something that most common harassment/assault/rape distinctions would label harassment by its real name – assault.

    I don’t very much care anymore what current power structures would label my experience – I think they’re wrong much of the time anyway. But I remember this being an acute source of pain while I was trying to process what had happened – the fact that I was denied the language for expressing it.

  2. ninjanurse permalink
    November 13, 2011 8:35 pm

    By Rhode Island law what Bialek describes is sexual assault.

  3. Libro Ballante permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:33 pm

    The level of euphemism can sometimes be so high that confusion can arise. Especially when the alleged perpetrator is a married man, it can become unclear whether he is being accused of sexual assault or infidelity, or (ick) whether either way it’s the infidelity that’s seen as most important. I think I’ve even seen headlines calling accusations of sexual assault against a prominent person “sex scandals” and not “rape scandals”; for instance, I recall seeing several headlines of the Strauss-Kahn affair before realizing that he was being accused of assault.

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