Why is it, when a woman accuses a politician of sexual assault, she’s a tramp if we support the candidate or a brave victim if we hate him?

In the political vortex of recent decades, she becomes merely a pawn, a tool to build up one side or tear down another, the actual truth of her story lost amid the chaos of high-stakes political races.

Both political parties are guilty of using or abusing these women. In their most hypocritical hour, feminists defended President Bill Clinton’s predations as “clumsy passes” at women. Conservatives have defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump, each of whom has faced assault accusations.

That’s why I am grateful that people are listening to the latest woman to come forward, Tara Reade, who said Joe Biden pinned her against a wall and sexually assaulted her in 1993 when she worked in his U.S. Senate office.

Even though her accusations have not stopped some powerful women from endorsing Biden, such as Hillary Clinton, Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi, others have called for Biden to bow out of the race. Their calls may be muted, but they are there, and that is something, the tentative first fumblings of a party beginning to hold its own to account.

Like most sexual assault accusations, Tara Reade’s are incredibly difficult to prove. Still, journalists have pieced together a fragile framework that supports some of her claims.

  • Interns in Biden’s office recalled that she suddenly stopped supervising them, which dovetail with her claim that she was relatiated against for trying to push back against sexual harassment. (New York Times)

  • Long-ago divorce court records revealed that something so traumatic happened to her in Biden’s office that it affected her marriage. (San Luis Obispo Tribune) It would be helpful to voters if Reade’s ex-husband would speak publicly.

  • Reade’s mother, since deceased, appears to have called Larry King’s TV show about that time to complain anonymously about her daughter’s treatment in an unnamed senator’s office. (CNN)

  • Those close to Reade say she shared her story with them at the time it happened. (New York Times, Washington Post) Contemporaneous reports such as these have been key to bolstering the accusations made by women during the #MeToo movement.

Nobody except Tara Reade and Joe Biden knows what happened that day in 1993. Yet I believe Tara Reade is telling the truth, just as I have come to believe the other women who have accused other powerful politicians. No woman would enter the public square to have mud flung at her unless a mighty grievance drove her there. I’m sure sometimes women lie, but many of those who have given interviews decades after the media spotlight has faded continue to stick to their stories.

Taking sexual assault accusations seriously requires guts on the part of party leaders. Not just guts, but a passion for fairness, for justice, and the ability to see that how they respond now will affect the way women are treated in the public square for decades to come.

Giving President Clinton a pass in the 1990s arguably cost Democrats the 2016 election. Replacing Biden now might cost them the 2020 election, but it would also position them as the party of accountability in the future.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.