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Former Congressional Candidate Rob Anderson Apologizes for Sexual Misconduct

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Last summer, I wrote about autistic candidate Rob Anderson’s 2020 campaign to become the first known openly autistic U.S. Congressperson in American political history. A compelling candidate with a diverse range of career experiences, Anderson’s race was initially considered competitive. While his bid never gained traction — he received only 11.6 percent of the total vote in Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district — the autistic firebrand developed a sizable Twitter presence, amassing more than 130,000 followers.

Spurred on by such notoriety, Anderson’s political future looked promising — until Twitter user @RancidGinger called him out for sending unsolicited nude pictures to women. In the wake of this allegation, several more women came forward, some of whom allegedly received nudes and were said to have worked on his campaign. Anderson, who is married, first apologized for the photos, but denied knowledge of the breadth of the accusations. Then, when the situation did not appear salvageable, he took full responsibility for his actions, locking his account and pronouncing that his political future was over.

When the story was unfolding, Anderson said that he struggled with social cues around the consensuality of sending sexual photos, due to his autism. Twitter users, however, were quick to point out that neurodivergent people know not to send explicit pictures, and some felt that he was exploiting his autism to excuse bad behavior. On the contrary, Anderson still had his defenders, who didn’t believe his missteps should be the end of his political career.

Regardless, the row reignites a debate about the limits of responsibility for autistic people for their actions within a social context. Many individuals on the spectrum struggle with what’s called cognitive empathy or the ability to take other people’s perspectives, which could extend to women not wanting to receive topless or nude photographs. Furthermore, social cues around consent may be more difficult for autistic people to comprehend. That being said, Anderson would eventually make clear that he alone, not any condition, was responsible for his actions.

With Rob Anderson out of politics, the race for the first federal officeholder open about a developmental disability continues.

Image via Rob Anderson – Live Facebook page

Originally published: April 30, 2021
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