Global News with Anuradha Dugal 03 April 2019
After four women recently came forward accusing former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden of inappropriately touching them, actress Alyssa Milano has come to his defence.
On Monday, the actress, who has been outspoken since the rise of the #MeToo movement, posted a series of tweets calling Biden a friend and champion of “fighting violence against women.”
“I have been fortunate to accompany him to events with survivors where he has listened to their stories, empathized with them and comforted them,” she wrote. “That’s who Joe Biden is — a warm, generous individual who believes it’s on all of us to pay attention to women’s stories and experiences.”
She added Biden was involved with starting the social movement It’s On Us encouraging survivors of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses to speak up.
“He believes to meaningfully change our culture, everyone — including those often left out of the conversation, like college athletes and fraternity brothers — needed to be part of the movement,” she continued.
“Joe Biden’s response that he never meant to make anyone uncomfortable and that he’ll listen and learn from anyone who says otherwise is exactly the leadership we need to build a culture where women are heard and are equal.”
Last week, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state representative and 2014 Democratic nominee for Nevada lieutenant governor, alleged the former vice-president kissed her on the back of her head, making her feel “uneasy” and “gross.”
In an article in New York Magazine, Flores added she and Biden were waiting to take the stage during a rally before the 2014 election.
“I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?” Flores continued. “Even if his behaviour wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.”
Biden released a statement over the weekend and on Wednesday saying that “social norms are changing.”
“Politics, to me, has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility, and I will meet it,” he said.
On Monday, Milano added that she respected Flores’ decision to tell her story and agreed that Biden should pay attention to it.
“But, just as we must believe women that decide to come forward, we cannot assume all women’s experiences are the same,” she said.
“I believe that Joe Biden’s intent has never been to make anyone uncomfortable and that his kind, empathetic leadership is what our country needs. Especially now.”
On social media, many users called out Milano for her “double standards,” especially when it came to mentioning women’s experiences.
“Your double standard is disgusting. Take a step back and look at all the ‘stances’ you take. You’re nothing if not consistent with jumping on a bandwagon,” one user said.
“Whether or not Lucy Flores said anything, the sheer number of videos is all I need to see. Biden’s not being able to keep his hands off of women [and] girls is disturbing. To not recognize that, in his powerful position, he intimidates women this way is simply willfully ignorant,” another user wrote.
Anuradha Dugal, director of community initiatives at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, told Global News that when trusted people in power have these types of allegations levelled against them, it’s still hard for some to see flaws in their character.
“People who abuse — especially powerful, trusted leaders — are often given the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “But consider what a person goes through when they come forward about abuse: the emotional toll, rumours, accusations and financial implications are significant.”
She added that social myths hit survivors in full force: “it’s your fault,” “you shouldn’t have worn that,” “you shouldn’t have been drinking” or “you’re lying to get fame and advance your career.”
“This can make survivors feel like it was their fault,” Dugal explained.
She added that as a whole, society is part of this problem.
“We all have power to change things to benefit survivors — most often, women and girls. We can start by believing those who come forward about abuse and place the blame where it belongs: the perpetrator,” she continued.
“And whatever a survivor wants to do — going to the justice system, exploring restorative justice processes or searching for other remedies and forms of healing — we can be there for them, respect their choices and support them.”
‘A change in the right direction’
Dugal said the ongoing problem with cases of sexual assault, harassment or inappropriate contact in the workplace is that people are still afraid to speak up.
“History teaches them that, too often, those who report are disbelieved and accused of wrongdoing,” she said. “A Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014) study found that 28 per cent of Canadians worried that police or other authorities would not take their reports seriously, while 16 per cent of Canadians worried that their family wouldn’t believe them and 15 per cent thought their doctors wouldn’t believe them.”
Sexual harassment and violence are widespread, she added, but the reality is that most people do not report what happened to them.
“While all women and girls are at high risk of abuse, those who experience additional discrimination like transphobia, racism and ableism are at even greater risk of violence and may be even less believed.”
Movements like #MeToo, originally started by activist Tarana Burke, are steps in the right direction.
“In addition to raising awareness, it gives women a voice and visibility. We’re definitely seeing an unprecedented level of support from all sides for survivors of sexual violence now that these digital spaces have opened up for sharing and support, and everyone has a role to play to make sure that this continues,” she explained.
“We’re making change in the right direction but we have to remember that there’s still more work to be done to fundamentally change the way institutions handle sexual harassment and assault claims. We’ve heard from those we work with on the ground that crisis lines and services for survivors see increased requests for support when news about high-profile gender-based violence cases break.”