Yesterday, the Washington Post published an investigative story in which a woman accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of initiating sexual contact with her when she was just 14 years old. The alleged incident, which included kissing, him removing her top and pants, and guiding her hand to touch his erect penis outside his “tight white” underwear, she claims took place 40 years ago, when Moore was 32.
Since the story broke, the unusual response to these child molestation allegations against Moore has also made headlines. Shortly after the story came out, Moore, who’s running to fill US Attorney Jeff Sessions’ seat in a runoff election next month, sent out an email to his “God-fearing” supporters asking for money. Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner that “[t]here’s just nothing immoral or illegal” about Moore’s alleged conduct because these relationships were common in the Bible.
And this morning, an Alabama state lawmaker suggested legal action be taken against Moore’s accusers. In an interview with The Cullman Times, State Rep. Ed Henry said he isn’t “buying” these accusations. “If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years,” the Republican said. “I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion.”
He also wondered if Moore’s accusers might see a payout from the Democratic Party. “If this was a habit, like you’ve read with Bill Cosby and millions of dollars paid to settle cases and years of witnesses, that would be one thing,” Henry said. “You cannot tell me there hasn’t been an opportunity through the years to make these accusations with as many times as he’s (Moore) run (for office) and been in the news.”
Chris Newlin is the executive director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center. He tells Broadly that he believes Henry’s comments are “very troubling and demonstrate an abject lack of understanding and awareness of child abuse dynamics.”
He adds: “The National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was created in 1985 to improve our response to child abuse allegations and has revolutionized our nation’s response to child abuse. Despite the progress we have made, this type of rhetoric is highly inflammatory and demeaning to survivors of child abuse.”
Katelyn Brewer, president and CEO of Darkness to Light, a nonprofit working to prevent child sexual abuse, agrees, adding that the representative’s comments are akin to victim-blaming. It’s important to remember, she tells Broadly, that there’s never a moment a child younger than the age of 18 can consent to anything sexual, whether it’s fondling or intercourse. “That is all child sexual abuse,” she says. “That is not an opinion; that is the law.”
According to statistics compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, approximately one in six boys and one in four girls in the US are sexually abused before the age of 18.
The fact is, Brewer says, Henry’s suggestion that someone should “go after” Moore’s accusers could potentially make survivors of child sexual abuse fearful to disclose—and the number of reports are already tragically low. “The general prevention and treatment community estimates that only 38 percent of reports are ever disclosed,” she explains. “Forty-five percent don’t tell anyone for at least five years. That is unbelievable if you think about it. It takes five years for half of the people to disclose to anyone—not necessarily the media, to literally tell the first person they’ve ever told, it takes them five years. And even then, that’s an incredible huge feat.”
Brewer continues: “It is our responsibility as adults to protect children—full stop. We teach children to get themselves to a place where they can come to an adult, a trusted adult, and disclose. But until then, we need to be creating environments that protect them before something ever happens to a child. The fact that we are hearing a congressperson say that it is a child’s responsibility to protect themselves from the poor behavior of adults is just backwards. We buy them car seats, we hold their hands when we walk across the street, we ask them who they’re going out with when they’re teenagers, we tell them not to drink and drive—how many restrictions do we place on our kids in order to protect them from crazy things in life? This is no different.”
Early this afternoon, Henry tweeted a response to the backlash he’s received about his comments in his Cullman-Times interview: “Clearing the air. I don't believe victims of sexual assault should be prosecuted. I believe people who falsely accuse should be accountable.”