Not all sexual assault cases alike: Line separates obnoxious from dangerous, criminal


By Janet Williams

Every day we turn on the news or pick up a paper to hear or read about another man in a position of power or authority who abused that power by harassing or assaulting women over whom they had control.

Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, religious or secular, the accusations add up. I’m not sure there is enough room to list every man in every walk of life who has harassed — or worse — the women in his path.

They include NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor, former host of Prairie Home Companion.

As the whole world knows by now, Lauer was canned by the network recently because of a sexual harassment allegation, and since the initial news broke a more serious charge of sexual assault has been leveled. The network, after a brief investigation, acted swiftly to remove him from the morning lineup.

Then there’s Keillor, the former radio host who lost his contract with Minnesota Public Radio because of an accusation of inappropriate touching.

In the media world, Lauer follows in the footsteps of CBS news host Charlie Rose, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, former ABC journalist Mark Halperin and … again, too many to name and if I tried I would probably leave out one.

Of course, in the realm of politics, there’s John Conyers, Al Franken and Roy Moore, and let’s not forget our Tweeter-in-Chief, Donald Trump, accused by a dozen women of inappropriate behavior in the past. That doesn’t even include his own admission recorded in 2005 in a conversation with Billy Bush of how and where he likes to grab women.

Every new name that drops and every new story of abuse and harassment are disturbing and should make all of us wonder how many are there, how far-reaching is the harassment and who is next? When — not if — will we begin hearing about leaders of the business world or local government being forced out because of similar actions?

Before we go further, keep a couple of things in mind as accusations mount.

These cases are not equal. The depraved behavior of a Harvey Weinstein is much, much worse than the boorish and crude actions of an Al Franken. Lauer’s actions border on the criminal, while Keillor’s behavior is repulsive and loutish.

There is a line that separates the merely obnoxious from the dangerous and possibly criminal, and it can be drawn by answering these questions:

Was there a physical assault?

Was a person’s career or livelihood threatened directly or indirectly by the behavior?

Did the behavior create a workplace environment where victims were harassed or intimidated?

To what degree was the person on the receiving end of the harassment or unwanted behavior traumatized?

An unwanted kiss or touch is upsetting and make no mistake, it’s wrong and the perpetrators should face consequences.

But to suggest that all bad behavior deserves the same punishment or even the same fall from grace creates a false equivalency that trivializes the real trauma of assault, rape and ruined lives.

That is why the case of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the long-serving Democrat from Michigan, is worse than Franken’s, the Democratic senator from Minnesota. Conyers has pressed women who work for him for sex, and Franken has behaved like some high school creep.

Conyers’ legacy as a hero of the civil rights movement doesn’t give him a pass for his current behavior. His actions matter, and that is why he should go.

It is also why the behavior of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama, is worse still. He was a grown man prowling the local mall for teenage girls. Is Roy Moore the kind of man you would want pursuing your daughter, especially if he was 30-something and she was 14?

Meanwhile, at the White House, Trump rallies to the defense of Moore even as he attacks Franken and lobs critiques at NBC in the aftermath of the Lauer firing. What kind of person thinks Moore’s behavior was ever OK?

The answer is Trump and some of the so-called Christian leaders who supported Trump and now rally behind Moore. They say Moore is a longtime defender of Christian values who will provide the vote Republicans need to assure passage of the tax cut/reform bill.

Sorry, but Republican or Democrat, religious or secular, political expediency shouldn’t trump basic human decency — not for John Conyers and not for Roy Moore.

Janet Williams is executive editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].

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