What Roy Moore’s Alleged Sexual Misconduct Symbolizes for Politics

The scandal surrounding Moore is helping lift the veil on a culture of sexual misconduct in the world of politics.

Seven women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Senate hopeful Roy Moore of Alabama. The women claim that Moore assaulted them when they were still teenagers. Although it appears that Moore lost his comfortable lead after results from the Alabama Senate Poll emerged, some voters remained unwavering in light of these allegations. According to the same poll, 29 percent of Alabamians were actually more likely to support Moore after learning of the recent accusations. Some prominent Alabama Republican figures have even gone on the record to publicly defend his behavior.

While the numbers do show a dip in popularity for Moore overall, there’s still a little over one million voters who retain their support. This number is concerning because it depicts our political landscape as a place that excuses sexual misconduct and lets the accused go unpunished, even in the eyes of the voter. The testimonies may reach back 40 years, but a refusal to hold Moore accountable now carries the sinister insinuation that victims can be scared into silence long enough for the window of culpability to elapse.

Moore’s case has become a symbol for the long pattern of political scandals that have dogged Capitol Hill. While the infamy is nothing new, its immediacy refreshes the discussion on sexual assault in the power-centric world of politics. His profile as a champion of hardline fundamentalists coupled with an illustrious resume in the legal field indicates that Moore is no stranger to having the upper hand in power dynamics.

However, that is not to say that the right side of the political spectrum stands alone in accusation. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a former comedian turned politician, has been accused by four women of inappropriate touching during the senator’s interactions with them. Franken has been known for his progressive agenda, and even sponsored a bill brought forward by a victim of sexual assault, Abby Honold, who was a student at the University of Minnesota when she was raped by a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. The bill seeks to improve how law enforcement conducts questioning with survivors of trauma. The bill has since been adopted instead by Sen. Franken’s colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, at Honold’s request.

Should victims decide to come forward with the truth, it can often be to their detriment.

Broadly speaking, the issue of sexual misconduct within the political sphere has been ongoing, running the gamut of state scandal to internationally publicized, such as Bill Clinton’s relation with his then White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The pattern that develops out of this regularity is one where politicians with concentrated power abuse their position, and feel free to do so because, for the most part, their behavior is tolerated and kept under wraps. This establishes a persistent culture of normalized harassment. The not-so-secret secret is that everyone else—women in particular—is expected to learn to navigate through and around this harassment. For them, it’s just another part of the job. Should victims decide to come forward with the truth, it can often be to their detriment. Sometimes, they’re subjected to threats intended to bar them from speaking up in the first place. Beverly Young Nelson, one of the women accusing Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor, alleged that Moore told her “…no one will believe you.” If victims do decide to speak up, they can often find themselves drowned out by other powerful voices. The president himself has even endorsed Moore’s denial, and in doing so, has rejected the validity of the five women’s testimonies.

Despite the backlash, victims are continuing to step forward and shatter the silence, turning the spotlight in a way that makes it hard for politicians and voters alike to look away from the issue. A changing cultural attitude has made more victims comfortable sharing their stories, inspired by those who come forward before them, rippling into discussions on the broader level of mainstream media. Whether or not this wave of cultural change brings tides of consequences to the offending politicians remains to be seen. But for now, that minority of 29 percent of voters will continue to loom over Alabama and the nation. Perhaps voters, too, need a culture change.