When Men Are Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Women Become Political Cudgels

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A report released on Tuesday by the New York attorney general’s office corroborated sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and, in doing so, broke a dam that had held for months after the first allegations emerged. President Biden called on Mr. Cuomo to resign. So did Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party. And several congressional Democrats. And unions. And more.

But even as the governor’s institutional support slipped away, social media overflowed with three-word responses from Democrats and liberals, suggesting that the people investigating or denouncing Mr. Cuomo should turn their focus to Republicans accused of sexual misconduct: “Now do Trump.” “Now do Gaetz.”

It is a familiar refrain. Substitute the name of any prominent politician accused of sexual harassment or assault, and you will find people invoking them in response to any report on, investigation of or repercussion for a politician of the opposite party. These comments purport to be a defense of survivors and a denunciation of partisan hypocrisy in responding to sexual misconduct. But they serve to deflect attention from the allegations at hand and reinforce a dynamic deeply entrenched in our politics: When there is partisan gain or loss to be had, survivors become political cudgels.

Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer and former gymnast who was the first woman to publicly describe abuse by the former U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, has denounced Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan groups alike for their responses when one of their own is accused of sexual misconduct. An evangelical Christian, she has also spoken out against church leaders who have covered up sexual violence.

The politicization of sexual abuse is “deeply painful, because the message it sends over and over again is: ‘You are not worth enough. Abuse doesn’t matter enough,’” Ms. Denhollander said. “‘I will support you so long as it’s not my community, it’s not my candidate and it won’t cost me anything, but as soon as it is my community, it is my candidate and it might cost me to care, it’s not worth enough and you are not worth enough.’”

Since the MeToo movement erupted in 2017, political figures in both major parties have been accused of sexual misconduct, and in the most prominent cases, Democrats have more frequently held their own accountable: Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, for example, resigned quickly after top Democrats turned on them, while Republicans confirmed Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and have stood by former President Donald J. Trump despite more than 20 allegations.

But the Democratic Party also stuck by Mr. Biden after a former staff member, Tara Reade, accused him of sexual assault (he denies the allegation), and many rank-and-file members of the party still express anger at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York for being the first Democratic senator to urge Mr. Franken to resign.

“In cases involving politicians, what we don’t want to see is everyone retreating into their partisan corners without digging into what the truth actually is,” said Scott Berkowitz, the president of RAINN, the country’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization. “Similarly, we don’t want people to ignore the results of an investigation that finds wrongdoing. We’re hoping that the country will get to the point of, when there is evidence of sexual misconduct, whether the perpetrator is a Democrat or Republican, acknowledging that reality and holding them accountable for the harm they have done.”

After Ms. Reade came forward last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee — which works to elect House Republicans — sent a flurry of tweets and emails accusing congressional Democrats of hypocrisy for not believing her, but believing Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh.

At the time, I asked a spokesman for the committee whether its leadership believed Ms. Reade. He responded that he would answer as soon as I asked every House Democrat the same question.

Understand the Scandals Challenging Gov. Cuomo’s Leadership

Multiple claims of sexual harassment. At least 11 women, including current and former members of his administration, have accused Mr. Cuomo of sexual harassment, unwanted advances or inappropriate behavior. He has refused to resign, and focus has turned to the State Assembly’s ongoing impeachment investigation.

Results of an independent investigation. An independent inquiry, overseen by the New York State attorney general, found that Mr. Cuomo had harassed the women, including current and former government workers, breaking state and federal laws. The report also found that he and aides retaliated against at least one woman who made her complaints public.

Nursing home death controversy. The Cuomo administration is also under fire for undercounting the number of nursing-home deaths caused by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, a scandal that deepened after a Times investigation found that aides rewrote a health department report to hide the real number.

Efforts to obscure the death toll. Interviews and unearthed documents revealed in April that aides repeatedly overruled state health officials in releasing the true nursing home death toll for months. Several senior health officials have resigned in response to the governor’s overall handling of the pandemic, including the vaccine rollout.

Will Cuomo be impeached? The State Assembly opened an impeachment investigation in March. It has taken on new urgency with the release of the attorney general’s report, and its pace is now expected to pick up. Democrats in the State Legislature and New York’s congressional delegation, as well as President Biden, have called on Mr. Cuomo to resign, saying he has lost the ability to govern.

Which brings us back to the “now do Trump” refrain and its many cousins.

“To be honest, it reminds me of my little kids squabbling — and what I say to them is, ‘All you can control is your own behavior,’” Ms. Denhollander said. “At some point, we have to be willing to put our foot down and to hold to what is right and true and good, regardless of the consequences to us. That is the only way to start moving us to a system of actual accountability, actual standards for our leaders. And one side is going to have to make the first move.”

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