by Emily Stetson
We need to talk about Bill Clinton.
As you might recall, on October 9, 2016, the night of the second Presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump held a pre-debate panel including three women accusing former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault, citing Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a facilitator in this behavior. Immediately following, a slew of articles began popping up online defending the former President and ‘debunking’ the accusations.
I get it. We have a lot at stake in this election, and this is our former president we’re talking about. Our instinct is to protect our own. For those reasons, it’s easy to dismiss the allegations against Bill Clinton as a desperate attempt by the Trump camp to distract from the recently released recordings of his incriminating, sexually charged language against women, and from his lack of knowledge on the issues facing our nation in general. In terms of the intentions behind this press conference, I would be inclined to agree. However, Democrats have made a dangerous mistake in responding to these claims; in our attempts to delegitimize Donald Trump, we have risked delegitimizing sexual assault altogether.
I can already hear my peers objecting in my head as I write out this argument. I even had a conversation with one of the said peers the night of the panel and debate.
“They’ve been proven untrue. Check out the Vox article I shared,” He said. Later he would state, “There’s a big difference in Bill having consensual sex and Trump talking about and abusing women.”
For some of the most die-hard Clinton fans, like my aforementioned peer, it’s impossible to believe they could ever do any wrong. Still, the glaring contradiction exists, that in any other circumstance, our party would proudly advocate that alleged victims have the right to be believed, and at the very least, have their claims listened to. We just don’t follow the same logic when those allegations hit home, and that ambiguity can have some adverse consequences on the legitimacy of our sexual assault policies moving forward.
For the purpose of putting these claims into perspective, let’s walk this back to a national scale. On one hand, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that, “On average, an estimated 211,200 rapes and sexual assaults went unreported to police each year between 2006 and 2010.”  Another source, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network [RAINN], claims that only 344 of every 1,000 rapes are even reported to the police.  Of course, these statistics must be taken with a grain of salt-- the nature of the question is what has gone unreported, so these numbers have the potential to be even larger than what is estimated.
Regardless, these estimates evoke a very poignant concern; why don’t women report their assaults? PBS’s “No Safe Place” study provides potential reasons for this low report rate, stating, “...most rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, because of shame, fear and deep-seated cultural notions that the woman is somehow to blame.”  As the society that has created such ‘deep-seated cultural notions’, we must hold ourselves accountable for the fact that women don’t feel safe pursuing justice against violations of their bodily autonomy. And no matter how uncomfortable the process is, we need to re-evaluate our behavior, figure out what we’re doing wrong, and readjust to create a more empowering environment for women to speak up.
Don’t get me wrong-- there’s countless things wrong with the panel that Donald Trump held a few weeks back. To regard this panel as a genuine attempt to empower victims of sexual assault would be a lapse of judgement. The spectacle only occurred after video  demonstrating his own shameful rhetoric regarding women, and the actions likely accompanying it, was publicized. Attempting to soften the reputational blow by comparing the severity of accusations does not relieve Mr. Trump of the responsibility for his own words. Moreover, the fact that Trump has reduced sexual assault allegations to a campaign tool is an insult to the experience of victims everywhere.
As an additional clarification, I’m not asking for a witch hunt against Bill Clinton, and I’m not asking for the country to abandon the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”. I’m also not purporting to have the answers to how our party should deal with these allegations. But the fact of the matter is that we can’t appear genuine in our efforts to fight sexual assault when we sweep allegations against Democrats under the rug-- the other 656 of 1000 victims who didn’t report their assault will see us doing so, and will lose confidence in our capacity and commitment towards defending their stories.
1 McCarthy, Kara. "NEARLY 3.4 MILLION VIOLENT CRIMES PER YEAR WENT UNREPORTED TO POLICE FROM 2006 TO 2010." Bureau of Justice Statistics Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 2006-2010. Office of Justice Programs, 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/vnrp0610pr.cfm>.
2 "The Criminal Justice System: Statistics." RAINN.org. RAINN, 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system>.
3 "Rape and Sexual Assault." No Safe Place. PBS KUED 7, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/studyg/rape.html>.
4 These Are Trump's Most Disgusting Comments about Women Yet. Youtube. Mic Network Inc., 7 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
1 Murphy, Olive. "BREAKING: Bill Clinton's Rape Accuser's Story COMPLETELY Debunked, Sworn Affidavit Leaked." Bipartisan Report. Bipartisan Report, 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://bipartisanreport.com/2016/10/09/breaking-bill-clintons-rape-accusers-story-completely-debunked-sworn-affidavit-leaked/>.
2 Matthews, Dylan. "The Sexual Harassment Allegations against Bill Clinton, Explained." Vox. Vox Media, Inc., 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.vox.com/2016/10/9/13221670/paula-jones-kathleen-willey-bill-clinton-sexual-harassment-accusations>.
3 Jones, Sarah. "Here Is Juanita Broaddrick's Affidavit That Destroys Trump's Attack On Hillary Clinton." Politicus USA. PoliticusUSA.com, 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.politicususa.com/2016/10/09/sworn-affidavit-juanita-broaddrick-denies-allegations.html>.
4 Lee, Michelle. "Fact Check: For Years, Trump Dismissed Sex Allegations against Bill Clinton." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 9 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2016/live-updates/general-election/real-time-fact-checking-and-analysis-of-the-2nd-2016-presidential-debate/fact-check-for-years-trump-dismissed-sex-allegations-against-bill-clinton/>.