Column: #MeToo is not a joke and Biden is accountable


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In the age of #MeToo, we must support survivors and end sexual violence by holding the responsible accountable.

Brittany Mendez, columnist

Last week, two women came forward and accused former Vice President Joe Biden of violating their personal space. Reporters asked him if he was sorry for his actions, and he replied, “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful, intentionally, to a man or a woman.”

Biden’s apology was necessary, as it is evident that he violated women’s personal space on several occasions, but it was by no means sufficient. He should have apologized for his actions more explicitly, specifically during the part about “understanding” his actions and not being sorry for “anything” he’s ever done. His apology was naive, making it seem insincere. I don’t find it problematic that he said he did not intend to make people feel uncomfortable, but to publicly declare you are not apologetic is insincere to women brave enough to come forward.

What I find most troublesome is his lack of seriousness. When speaking to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Washington, D.C., Biden wrapped his arm around a child and said, “By the way, he gave me permission to touch him. Everyone knows I like kids better than people.” Although the former vice president attempted to make light of the situation, sexual harassment is not a joke — less so than ever in the age of the #MeToo movement.

In light of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court in this country, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations and others’ must be taken seriously — their stories do have influence. Thus, it is even more important we evaluate what is defined as sexual violence.

On March 29, Lucy Flores published an article describing her encounter with Biden: “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head.” In response to Flores’ piece, Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, tweeted that his actions were “disrespectful and inexcusable,” emphasizing that Flores’ experience was worth bringing forward — just as I believe Ford’s was. I completely agree with Burke, but it is important to make a distinction between Biden’s actions and acts of sexual violence.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sexual violence “is sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not freely given.” As Amy Lappos, the second woman who came forward, pointed out in her experience, “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head.”

In her testimony during Kavanaugh’s hearings, Ford claimed, “He began running his hands over my body and grinding his hips into me … Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes … I believed he was going to rape me.” Ford’s graphic recollection describes an act of sexual violence that should be treated as such.

The homepage of the #MeToo website displays the tagline: “Support survivors and end sexual violence.” Both Biden’s and Kavanaugh’s actions merit the criticism any other predator receives in the #MeToo era, regardless of political affiliation. But what Biden is accused of should not be categorized as sexual violence, as that undermines the experiences of sexual violence survivors. Neither Biden nor Kavanaugh deserve a pass for their actions; rather the consequences of their actions must continue to empower women to come forward.