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The Last Safe Space For Sexual Predators In America

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore drives away in his car after he speaks at a church revival, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Jackson, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore drives away in his car after he speaks at a church revival, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Jackson, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

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You’ll have probably noticed by now that America has become a lot less tolerant of men who sexually harass women.

For most of our nation’s history, of course, men have been largely free to prey upon women, to exploit the power they hold professionally, culturally, economically, even physically, to initiate sexual conversations and interactions with women (usually subordinates) who do not want them.

The omerta that once protected these sexual predators was predicated on the knowledge that most women would remain silent out of shame, out of fear of retribution, out of hopelessness, or simply to protect themselves from further anguish.

But over the past few years, a number of high-profile harassers have been publicly exposed and, more significantly, punished for their misconduct, which has led more and more women to disclose their own harassment.

The fact that [Republicans] stood by an avowed sexual predator created a new permission structure.

The list includes dozens of men working in prominent fields, men whose sexual misconduct was suppressed for years. And significantly, the list is bipartisan.

You’ve got conservative media bigwigs such as Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, who both left Fox News in disgrace. You’ve got journalists from more liberal outlets, such as MSNBC’s Mark Halperin, or NPR’s Michael Orestes or the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier.

You’ve got the comedians (Bill Cosby, Louis C.K.) and movie producers and directors (Harvey Weinstein, James Toback) and actors (Kevin Spacey). You’ve got celebrity chefs (John Besh) and publishers (Knight Landesman) and fashion photographers (Terry Richardson).

But there is still one safe space for sexual predators in America: the Republican Party.

Of course, there have been exceptions to this rule over the years, guys like Mark Foley, who resigned his House seat after he sent sexually explicit emails to teenage male congressional pages. Or Sen. Bob Packwood, who left office not because 29 women came forward with claims of sexual harassment, but because his own subpoenaed diaries revealed him boasting about his conquests.

But whatever shred of decency the GOP had regarding sexual misbehavior sailed right out the window on the day their presidential standard-bearer was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by their — uh, what’s the designated conservative term here? Oh yes, here it is — ladyparts. Trump’s own words would have gotten him sacked in nearly any other professional setting: in a boardroom, a school, a hospital, a police department, a newsroom or a movie set.

But Republican officials and voters were undeterred by his “locker-room talk” and by the dozen women who accused him of sexual misconduct, including his own ex-wife Ivana, who, during divorce proceedings, described a violent sexual encounter with him in which she felt violated.

The fact that they stood by an avowed sexual predator created a new permission structure.

Nobody should be the least bit shocked by the Republicans who are currently standing by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, even after revelations that he routinely dated teenage girls as a district attorney in his thirties.

Two of his accusers — one of them was 14, the other, 16 — say that he molested them.

Asked by conservative radio host Sean Hannity whether he ever dated teenage girls, Moore responded, “Not generally, no. If I did, I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that.” He later added, “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

That’s not a defense; it’s a confession.

And yet GOP voters — and national party leaders, until they realized Moore might lose -- continue to support him. They do so not by directly disputing the claims against him. (That would be impossible.)

Instead, they cast Moore as the victim of a vast media conspiracy. Or they claim his alleged molestation was no more serious than stealing a lawnmower. Or they attempt to change the subject to Bill Clinton’s disturbing, but consensual, sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

This is the kind of paranoid raving and toddler logic that the GOP now traffics in daily. Republicans are no longer a political party. They are a tribe ruled by disinformation and morally blinded by fanaticism. More disturbing is the message they send in standing by men who admit to, and even brag about, sexual harassment and assault: that partisan goals are more important than the safety of women and girls. In fact, you're telling the women and girls of America that their bodies don't belong to them.

The only way to demolish the safe space they’ve created for men like Roy Moore is by voting them out of office.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is a writer. His new book, "Bad Stories: Toward A Unified Theory of How It All Came Apart," will be out in March 2018. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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