OPINION: Political ambition and sex crimes often go hand-in-hand



Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questions witnesses during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

From the origination of the #MeToo movement from 2017 to 2019, the Associated Press compiled a list of 90 state lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct within those two years; this is significant due to the sheer number of politicians accused of sex crimes within a short period of time. The list was categorized by the level of consequences faced, ranging from legal repercussions to resignation.

The report is also an unfortunate reminder that people in power often do not face repercussions for their actions. Most lawmakers on the list either resigned or decided not to run in the next election; fewer than ten of the 90 lawmakers faced a confrontation with the law leading to trial or a criminal charge. 

This lack of real accountability has remained steady in the years since 2019, with multiple high-profile politicians being accused of sex crimes since the beginning of 2021. Of these politicians, those whose cases have gained the most media traction are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Florida State Rep. Matt Gaetz and Missouri State Rep. Rick Roeber. 

Cuomo faced multiple accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, with calls for resignation from both Democrats and Republicans. Cuomo is currently facing an impeachment investigation. Gaetz is presently under investigation for the possible violation of federal sex trafficking laws. He is accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paying for her to travel with him. Roeber was expelled from the Missouri House on April 21, 2021, after an investigation found that he physically and sexually abused his children. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York on Monday, April 19, 2021. New York’s comptroller has asked the state attorney general’s office to launch a criminal investigation into whether the governor used state resources to write and promote his book on leadership in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool via AP) (AP)

Out of the three, Roeber is the only politician so far to have been removed from his position. Both Gaetz and Cuomo continue to be active in their respective stations amid accusations. 

“Power dynamics encompass communication, sociological, anthropological properties; and finally, the most important property: psychologically human-driven patterns,” said psychologist and DePaul alumna Delia Barone. “Every relationship in our life has a duality. I think because of the natural representation of this duality in humans; power dynamics then becomes a natural adaptation and representation of society.”

Sexual assault allegations can be found consistently throughout all branches of government; both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump face multiple unresolved allegations. 

Surrounded by Army cadets, President Donald Trump watches the first half of the 121st Army-Navy Football Game in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)

Included in the connection between sex crimes and the executive branch of the government are former presidents Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It is important to note that this list is based on the definition of sexual assault during each of their terms, and the definition of sexual assault has shifted over time, so it is not all-encompassing. 

The definition of sexual assault has evolved over time to include more protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment. Historically, women were not taken seriously in their accusations because sexual assault was not considered a problem that needed to be fixed. The effort toward an equitable system for victims of sexual assault only gained prominence in the 1970s. 

The most significant connection between all of the politicians listed previously is that they are predominantly men with generational power. 

“Power changes a person’s ego because they lose sight of where they came from,” Barone said. “As Freud states, our pleasures and childhood is what fuels our ego; the superego is then shaped and influenced by society, thus the conflict.” 

Most notable in our consideration of political sex crimes today is the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and former President Bill Clinton. While currently considered an aspect of sexual assault, the significant disparity in power was previously celebrated as a man’s ability to obtain a younger, more attractive woman. Lewinski, then an intern, fell prey to an individual who was widely considered the most powerful person in the U.S. and because of that, was demonized; even her name is used as a tagline in songs and popular culture references

“Historically, there has always been a connection between sex crimes and power,” said DePaul senior Ally Duerst. “For the most part, sex crimes aren’t really committed based on desire; they are committed because of power and the power dynamic it gives [abusers].”

According to anti-sexual assault organization, RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. Every nine minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. 

The sheer amount of sex crimes committed in the U.S. relative to the number of those convicted of sex crimes is drastic, but it begs the question: Why have we consistently refused to hold individuals accountable for their actions?

Too often, especially for people in positions of power, the repercussions are a slap on the wrist. 

“Having to resign is the lowest amount of accountability,” said Riley Reed, a junior at DePaul studying political science. “It’s about justice at this point. How are we ever going to reach that?”

The discussion of sex crimes and their relationship to politicians rarely moves past the use of victims and accusers as politicized talking points. 

“We like to pick and choose if something aligns with our political views, which is why we see a majority of Republicans calling out Joe Biden and a majority of Democrats calling out Donald Trump,” Duerst said. “Unfortunately, we see sex crimes now as a way to take down people, not to believe the victim, but as a way to cancel people.”

President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark International Women’s Day, Monday, March 8, 2021, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (AP)

In a national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in 2017, 60 percent of female American voters say they’ve experienced sexual harassment. Among male American  voters, 20 percent say they’ve experienced sexual harassment. A question on the poll asked if voters would vote for a political candidate who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Unfortunately, as individuals, we cannot sway the justice system toward a harsher stance on sex crimes. Our power must come from voting; specifically, it is our duty to vote out those who have taken advantage of the power dynamic afforded to those in politics.  

Power dynamics can only be shut down when those benefiting from systems of power are held accountable for their actions. Power without regulation is detrimental to the progression of society.