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Stop Solely Framing Matt Gaetz Sexual Allegations as a Political Matter

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Recently a federal criminal investigation has uncovered allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution involving Florida congressman Matt Gaetz. The allegations are part of a broader FBI probe into sex trafficking of another Florida politician, Joel Greenberg. Federal investigators are looking into whether or not Gaetz had sexual relations with and paid for the travel of a 17 year old girl. According to a number of federal statutes, it is illegal for someone under the age of 18 to travel across state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. In an interview Gaetz states that “I only know that it (the investigation) has to do with women. I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.” 

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This is only the latest in what feels like a never ending string of sexual misconduct allegations involving high profile men. Part of me applauds the fact that as a society we are becoming more intolerant of this kind of behavior and are holding alleged perpetrators accountable for their indiscretions. However, as a sexual assault survivor myself, I’m tired of allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men being framed as a political one. Sexual assault isn’t political. It crosses the political divide, and this fixation ignores the fact that there is an epidemic of men in positions of power abusing their statuses and exploiting women and children. To not call that out is dehumanizing and fails to recognize the real victims in these situations.  

Regardless of the age of the victim, using a position of power to lure someone into a sexual relationship is a violation. It sets up an unequal dynamic where the victim’s ability to consent is skewed by the potential ramifications of saying no. In the case of a victim who is underage, the violation is even more egregious. A 17-year-old may look mature physically, but they are still very much a child and manipulating them by offering gifts like travel is heinous. In this particular case the word “generosity” could just as easily be translated to “grooming.”

The #MeToo movement has fostered an environment where sexual violence is no longer being tolerated as “normal” or “acceptable” but for as far as we have come in establishing a culture where exploiting women and children is considered unacceptable, we continue to make attempts at either excusing the behavior of the perpetrators as harmless or we try to victim blame the survivors as somehow being complicit in the relationship, particularly in cases involving high profile perpetrators. Why are we more inclined to believe that someone in a position of status is being framed than that someone using their status to manipulate others for their own gain? It’s illogical and it’s a harmful narrative to perpetuate.  

Coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct isn’t something a victim takes lightly, particularly when the perpetrator is a high profile individual. A victim does so understanding that their pain will be scrutinized and that they will likely be disbelieved. It’s hard enough to live with the shame of assault without having to deal with this kind of victim blaming on such a public platform. 

The advocate in me constantly feels compelled to stand up for the victims and hold these men accountable, no matter who they are, what political party they belong to or how powerful they are. It’s like living in a state of high alert all the time, trying to explain how sexual assault occurs and how it can destroy a victims life. I engage in these discussions willingly because I’m passionate about giving survivors a voice, but I do find it to be especially discouraging to have the additional hurdle of having to cut through the excess noise created by framing the story through the lens of political or social intrigue.  I don’t care who the alleged perpetrator is, if they violated someone sexually, they need to be held accountable. No amount of celebrity, money or power should excuse or absolve someone of criminal activity.

Lead image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Originally published: April 2, 2021
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