Literally, the first story I saw when I logged on this morning to scan what was happening in the world was how longtime Hillary Clinton aide/confidante Huma Abedin, also the ex-wife of disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D), had alleged in her upcoming book what numerous media outlets have labeled as a “sexual assault” from an unnamed U.S. senator which allegedly happened sometime in the early 2000s.
UK news outlet The Guardian got a hold of an advance copy of Abedin’s new book “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” which comes out next week. They filed a report detailing Abedin’s claim:
Then, after describing a Washington dinner attended by “a few senators and their aides” but not Clinton, Abedin writes: “I ended up walking out with one of the senators, and soon we stopped in front of his building and he invited me in for coffee. Once inside, he told me to make myself comfortable on the couch.”
She says the senator took off his blazer, rolled up his sleeves and made coffee while they continued to talk.
“Then, in an instant, it all changed. He plopped down to my right, put his left arm around my shoulder, and kissed me, pushing his tongue into my mouth, pressing me back on the sofa.
“I was so utterly shocked, I pushed him away. All I wanted was for the last 10 seconds to be erased.”
Abedin writes that the senator seemed surprised but apologized and said he had “misread” her “all this time”. As she considered how to leave “without this ending badly”, she writes, the senator asked if she wanted to stay.
The Guardian doesn’t write that she herself called the 10-second incident a “sexual assault,” but they did say she noted in the book that the Kavanaugh hearings brought it to mind, which makes it sound like she views the kissing incident along the same lines.
Several U.S. outlets I’ve seen that wrote about this story like Fox News and The Hill among others have all used the term “sexual assault” in their headlines without the quote marks around them. Smartly, considering it doesn’t appear that’s what Abedin actually wrote. But it does seem that these outlets latched on to The Guardian’s description of the encounter as a “sexual assault” and ran with it.
I’m aware that legally speaking, what Abedin described could technically be considered a “sexual assault” due to situational aspects (which should always be considered in these matters, IMO). In addition to the unwanted kiss, there was the power dynamic of a senator who was kissing the aide of another senator (presumably Clinton was a senator at the time, though the exact year of the incident wasn’t shared by Abedin and other details were kept deliberately vague). It also made her uncomfortable, obviously, from the way she described it.
I’m also aware that there are women who have been in these exact situations except the man kept pushing and either didn’t stop and it led to rape or he otherwise scared the hell out of the woman by going on too long for her comfort before letting up before something even worse happened. The point of what I’m writing is to not diminish legitimately frightening experiences (because I’ve been in a couple of them myself), though I’m sure my Twitter mentions will fill up with false claims from my critics that that’s exactly what I’m doing.
But, I’m sorry, this just needs to be said: If what the Guardian described Abedin writing about is the extent of it, that’s not a “sexual assault” in my book. She and a senator were spending some time together, had coffee, he made a move for a few seconds, she rejected him and he stopped and she was able to leave of her own free will. End of story.
And guess what? The Guardian later notes that Abedin said in the book that she and the senator moved on from the incident and she “stayed friendly” with him after putting some distance between them for a time. Women who really experience a sexual assault typically do not try to “stay friendly” with their attacker years later, not ever, really.
Simply put, if a guy spending time with a woman, then kissing her and then backing off immediately when he’s told to back off – and no effort is made to restrain her from leaving is considered “sexual assault,” then 99% of American men are monsters and 99% of women in this country have been “sexually assaulted” at some point in their lives.
Legal and technical arguments aside (because those can be made by someone much more skilled in legalese than I am), in my opinion, the mainstream media needs to be extremely careful in going down the road of describing incidents like these as “sexual assaults,” not only because it is not fair to guys – most of who are probably already nervous as hell about making the first move – but also because it diminishes actual instances where a woman has been sexually assaulted.
Reporters/writers/commentators, etc, let’s not go down this road, please. We have a responsibility to the public – and to actual victims – to get this right.
Just my .02, for what it’s worth.
On a related note, anyone who thinks I was too harsh on Abedin should read this New York Post opinion piece from Andrea Peyser, who just goes off on her. Obviously, Abedin’s story is stirring up a lot of emotions, some of which run counter to what women are “supposed” to feel when they read stories like these but often don’t.