Senator Al Franken Accused of Sexual Assault

[Content Note: Sexual assault.]

Leeann Tweeden has shared her story of being sexually assaulted by Senator Al Franken on a USO tour in 2006. Her account includes a photograph of Franken groping (or nearly groping) her breasts while she was asleep on the trip home.

Tweeden describes being coerced into rehearsing a skit Franken had written during which they kiss. During that rehearsal: "We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine, and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn't be so nice about it the next time."

Franken then harassed her "with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops." And, on the flight on the way home, he posed with his hands positioned over/on her breasts for a photo taken by the official photographer. Tweeden wasn't even aware it had happened until she "was back in the US and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer."

So, to be clear, Tweeden reports that not only did Franken sexually assault her; he then humiliated her.

Before I continue, I want to note that there is a lot of debate about whether Franken was actually touching Tweeden in the photo. I am not going to host that debate here: 1. Because it's a distraction; 2. Because it's garbage to insist there's no problem with that photo as long as he wasn't physically touching her; and 3. Because it's ridiculous to me that anyone would assume if he wasn't touching her in the photo that means he didn't touch her at all. We literally cannot know, because she can't tell us, as she was asleep.

Moving on.

In response to Tweeden's account, Franken issued a statement reading: "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."

That statement is insufficient in a number of ways, but most of all because including an argument that sexual assault could ever be "funny" is fairly damning.

Presumably, there will be a more comprehensive response from Franken. [ETA. A longer statement has now been issued.]

At the moment, I just want to make two brief observations about how Franken fits into the larger moment of abuser exposures:

1. Al Franken in particular feels like a huge betrayal. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that. And he joins a long line of progressive men who spoke out on behalf of women who have betrayed us: Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards... The more men do this, the more women will feel like we have nowhere to turn and no one to trust, especially as long as men continue to disproportionately hold positions of power.

2. I am seriously freaked out by the thought that there are a whole lot of men whose takeaway at the moment is that sexual assault is so ubiquitous and so without consequence, aside from possibly a few days of public shame, that there actually isn't any meaningful risk to sexually assaulting women.

Please note, as always, that rape apologia, including and especially victim-blaming, is a violation of the commenting policy. Comments containing such will be removed and their authors banned.

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