Weekend Update 7/13/2019: Powerful men sometimes face consequences, but what happened at New Republic?
First: Trump Labor chief Alex Acosta resigns due to Jeffrey Epstein case. I wish I’d posted on line on Thursday what I said to my husband when I saw a news stories in which Trump was reported to have said that there was “zero chance” he would fire Acosta over these allegations. Because the moment I read that I thought, “he’s going to be out by the end of the week!” In case you don’t know what this is about, a week ago Trump pal Jeffrey Epstein arrested for sex trafficking dozens of minors and Fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy, accused by US prosecutors of paying girls as young as 14 for sex and using them to recruit others from 2002 to 2005. And not just trafficking: Wealthy financier charged with molesting dozens of girls under the age of 18.
“Prosecutors said the evidence against Epstein included a “vast trove” of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photographs of young women or girls, discovered in a weekend search of his New York City mansion. Authorities also found papers and phone records corroborating the alleged crimes, and a massage room still set up the way accusers said it appeared, prosecutors said.”
How does this involve Trump’s Labor Secretary? Well, 12 years ago Acosta was a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and mega-rich Epstein was under investigation for very similar charges involving molesting 36 young girls. Acosta stepped in a negotiated a plea deal where Epstein plead guilty to two minor prostitution charges, and would be required to register as a sex offender. Immunity from prosecution was granted on all of the other charges for Epstein, four named co-conspirators, and “unnamed potential co-conspirators.” People have been criticising that deal for years, particularly as it was pointed out that around the same time, Acosta prosecuted much less high-profile defendants on similar charges and got much more serious prison time for them.
Acosta had a press conference earlier this week in which he argued that the case hadn’t been strong enough to win, and besides, state authorities were really to blame. Those officials had something to say: ‘Abhorrent’ and ‘Completely Wrong’: Former Florida Officials Push Back Against Acosta’s Account of Epstein Case.
Some conservative sites are arguing that the new case isn’t prosecutable because of the deal. There are a few problems with that. The original deal only covered the 36 victims mentioned in the deal, for one, and More than 12 new Jeffrey Epstein accusers come forward. So none of these cases would be covered by the prosecutorial immunity. Also, one of the conditions of the deal was not just the Epstein would register as a sex offender, but that as a sex offender he would report his movement to authorities: NYPD let convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein skip judge-ordered check-ins (when you’re rich, you can get away with anything). Which doesn’t automatically mean the deal is voided, but a judge can set aside such a deal on those grounds.
Also, the original plea agreement was approved by a judge (as all have to be), and at that hearing it is traditional that victims of the alleged crimes are given a chance to address the court concerning the deal. At the time, only a few of the victims did so, and Acosta’s office told the court that all of the other victims declined to comment. Several of those victims insist that they were not consulted and not given an opportunity to speak, and a Florida judge ruled earlier this year that the non-prosecution agreement violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because at least some witnesses were never consulted or informed that it had happened. The federal court where Epstein is currently being tried doesn’t have to abide by the state court’s ruling, but it can take it into account.
So, Acosta resigned yesterday. Good riddance. Though I don’t think that simply resigning and then retiring to a cushy consulting job in the vast alt-right media-and-consulting ecosystem is adequate punishment: How Alex Acosta Got Away With It for So Long – The only way the labor secretary could give Jeffrey Epstein that 2008 plea deal is by ignoring victims.
Every now and then, someone likes to accuse me of only going after bad behavior on one end of the political spectrum. Yesterday evening was an example of the other direction: The New Republic removes op-ed attack on Buttigieg; admits it was ‘inappropriate and invasive’. Yesterday, the New Republic, which is generally considered to be a left-leaning publication, published a op-ed by an out gay writer entitled, “My Mayor Pete Problem.” I saw lots of people commenting on it throughout the day, but didn’t get a chance to go read it until the evening.
It was special.
It literally read (and I said so on line before it was pulled) like a drunken rant you would hear in a gay bar in which someone was critiquing a gay politician and blending opinions about the politician’s personal life choice, speculation about his habits in bed, along with poorly sourced comments on the politicians actual policy positions. Since the essay has been taken down (and a rather lame editorial apology posted), you can’t go read it for yourself. But don’t take my word for it:
In the hard-to-believe essay, Peck repeatedly referred to the also openly gay Buttigieg as “Mary Pete.” …Among the many gratuitous personal insults to the mayor, Peck also compares him to a 15-year-old boy who’s wondering if he should sleep with a 50-year-old man, and speculates about Buttigieg’s sexual preferences in bed — in terms that are not appropriate to repeat in this publication.
—The New York Daily News
Beside the fact that this vulgar hit piece was represented as political commentary (and then after the firestorm of criticism, the editors pivoted to claiming it was satire), the other crime it committed is that it forced me to agree with the arch-conservative wingnuts at the Washington Examiner: Nasty, horribly written New Republic op-ed attacks Mayor Pete as the gay Uncle Tom (Note, this is a donotlink.it link).
When the same publication that frequently insists that IQ is hereditary which therefore justifies some of their racist editorials recognizes that something you’ve published is homophobic, you have really screwed up!
Someone at the New Republic needs to get fired over this.
And here are a collection of awful headlines that I want to clear out and not even think about for next Friday:
Feds Bust Christian Missionary For Molesting Orphans. Arrested. Please, oh please don’t let anyone like Acosta near this case!
Finally, while I don’t feel right trying to end this on a positive note, I will end it with just a bit of schadenfreude:
Anti-Gay Former GOP Rep. William Dannemeyer Dies At 89, Called For Firing And Quarantining People With HIV. When he was still in congress he claimed that queer men infected with HIV “emitted spores” that could infect pregnant women—and that was hardly the craziest thing he ever said. Anyway, here’s hoping his soul is mounted on a nice rotisserie in hell.
And if you follow the news, you know that it still happens.
As Dan said himself a couple years ago, he didn’t stop doing the weekly posts because pastors stopped raping kids in churches, but because the bigots abandoned their “think of the children” arguments against marriage equality. However, the bigots have revived those arguments, but now targeting trans people. And, as Alvin McEwen notes frequently while posting news links on his blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, all of the lies that bigots used to make about gay and lesbian people to justify discriminating against us are being re-purposed toward transgender people.
I am not going to start doing a weekly post of sexual crimes of pastors. However, I noticed when I was compiling the last Friday Five that it was about the third week in a row where several stories about pastors committing sexual and other crimes had not quite made it into the list. I bookmark lots of news each week, but I try to limit the number of stories posted on Friday about how horrible people can be to less than half the links each week. So these have tended to be omitted. I’m going to just list them all here, then follow up with a bit more commentary after:
Pastor Who Backed Murder Charge For Abortion Arrested For Molesting Teenage Relativ and also: Pastor Stephen Bratton: following his confession, his church moved swiftly to excommunicate him from the congregation and scrub any trace of his name from their website.
A few comments:
Please note that I didn’t do a Google news alert. The above stories got bookmarked because they appeared on news sites I read regularly. When I do run a search on “pastor crime” in News, a lot of stories that don’t make it to my usual news sites always pop up.
Back when I was seeing Dan’s weekly posts, one of the things that irritated me was how often the headlines said “former youth pastor” and similar phrases (which you will note at least one of the above headlines employs). The reason that irritates me is that, whenever you read the stories, the crimes the pastor has been arrested or convicted of happened when they still were actively serving as a pastor. Often their victims were members of the church at the time. Yeah, after the sexual predator was arrested, suddenly the church decides to fire him and distance themselves from him, but at the time of the crimes, the pastor was still employed as a pastor, and more importantly, merely being fired is not the same as stripping the person of their credentials. In most cases, these criminals still possess their certification or registration or whatever the specific denomination refers to as its official recognition that the person has been ordained even after they are sent to prison.
As at least two of the stories above explicitly explain, churches in general are really bad at handling these cases. They often cover up the pastor’s crimes. And even when they don’t, they frequently roll out the forgiveness carpet from the perpetrator of these horrendous crimes, while shaming the victims and those who support the victims.
It isn’t transgender students who just want to use the regular bathroom at school who pose a threat to children. Far too often, it is youth pastors and other church leaders.
With all that has been in the news lately, it should come as no surprise that I have been thinking of the many ways that we are all socialized to accept, excuse, and even enable a lot of socially aggressive behavior from guys. And also how we, as guys, are socialized to aggressively pursue what we want. So, when what a guy wants is sex, well, having been told your whole life never to take no for an answer, well, a lot of those guys are going to do some bad things to get it. And many of the rest of us will deflect, deny, or minimize the severity of what they have done, sometimes even when we witness is.
And yes, even when we are the victim.
There have been many times over the last 28 years that I have tried to write about my experience being sexually assaulted. I have stopped myself from publishing it many times. Because even now, 28 years later, I’m still ashamed. There is a part of me that still believes it was my fault. I was a grown up man, and men are supposed to be able to take care of themselves, right?
Looking at the way people talk about the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, I see that millions of people still blame the victims in these cases. They often insist that it isn’t blame, it’s disbelief. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why didn’t she report it? They are completely unaware that this refusal to disbelieve is exactly way when one is a victim of sexual assault, we don’t say anything.
So, it’s time to share my story, including why I didn’t report it. Obvious content warning: alcohol, queer men dating, and sexual assault. Don’t click on the link unless you’re prepared…
That last is both true and horrifically misleading. I’m going to explain it by switching to a related topic, and tell about one of my cousins…
It’s always a bit fraught to write about certain topics when you, the author, are an old white guy. The topic of sexual assault and harassment is fraught no matter who you are, make no mistake, but… For me the topic is difficult for a few reasons. When I was closeted (especially when I was very young and didn’t understand what was different about me from the other boys), I was under constant pressure to act like the other boys. This meant, at times, parroting the verbal bullying (or at least acting like I agreed with it) which was aimed at gals around us and at any guy who wasn’t coming up to the impossible masculine ideal. So, I am keenly aware of many times when I perpetuated misogyny. I’ve teased people, or laughed along while others teased people, or looked the other way, rolled my eyes, and generally didn’t help (or even recognize sometimes) the victim of many types of harassment.
Guys are socialized to unashamedly express their interest and demand the attention of the people we are attracted to. And we’re socialized to never take “no” for an answer. All humans are socialized to allow men to get away with never accepting that “no”—just look at the millions of movies, novels, et cetera where the hero keeps pursuing the girl that can’t stand him until she finally realizes that he’s the one for her. So we’re socialized to think that certain types of harassment are cute and romantic.
As an out queer guy, I’ve found myself the target of various kinds of harassment/micro aggressions (in the workplace or elsewhere) from straight males that is a strange mix of anti-gay and anti-feminine. And I’ve also had my own experience of being date raped (including spending many days blaming myself for letting them take advantage of me, until a friend told me to stop thinking of it that way). So the topic also pushes some of my own buttons.
As I said, we’re all socialized to accept harassing behavior, which is part of the reason assault victims are seldom believed. On the rare occasions that we believe assault might have happened, we’re socialized to blame the victim: Did you lead him on? What were you wearing? What did you think would happen if you agreed to be alone with him? Et cetera and ad nauseam. So it is actually amazing that in the last couple of weeks we’ve starting believing people when these allegations came forward.
Not everyone, unfortunately. I’m not surprised at all, for instance, that a single guy coming forward and talk about an attempted sexual assault another man committed against him years ago was instantly believed, whereas many women have come forward to talk about the many times a senate candidate did similar things to them and there is emphatic doubt. But we’re at least tipping a little bit in the direction of believing assault victims.
Now, what do we do about it? Well:
…at least once a month a woman will reach out to me to let me know that a man I’ve worked with, socialized with, or even considered a friend, is an abuser. These aren’t tales of one incident, it’s almost always a pattern of abuse quietly shared by multiple women who are scared of being publicly known. Occasionally these are stories from women who made their accusations VERY publicly known—but they were quickly and violently shouted down by their own community and, almost immediately, the accusations were forgotten by everyone except for the women who had been abused and cast out.
These aren’t famous people.
If you have sexually assaulted anyone; If you have shown someone your dick who did not want to see your dick; If you have sexually harassed anyone; If you have casting couched anyone… you have to know right now that your time is coming. You know who you are. You are probably sitting there right now, worrying about when that will be, when those you hurt will find the strength to come forward. Because the question is no longer if, but when.
Some companies depend too much on “there’s no problem right now, so we don’t need to fix anything” mentality… “The insights of the culture need to come from the women working there”
But definitely don’t do this:
And in case you’re still wondering about some aspects of this:
Finally, is someone starts talking about false rape accusations, you can explain how fewer than 10% of such allegations are false, and more importantly, how to tell the difference:
When a woman says she’s been brutally raped by seven men at a public party on a bed of broken glass, as the UVA accuser did, and when that woman has a history of strange lies, as the UVA accuser also did, there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. But if a woman without any history of dramatic falsehoods says she went home with a man and, after they’d kissed a while consensually, he held her down and forced her into sex—in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, you can just assume it’s true. This is not because of any political dictum like “Believe women.” It’s because this story looks exactly like tens of thousands of date rapes that happen every year, and nothing at all like a false rape accusation.