The discussion is delicate in many respects: especially after the scandals following the MeToo movement, questions have been asked extensively – and especially in the United States – about how to deal with allegations of sexual violence and harassment. Often activists insisted on the importance of believing the victims who report them, and on the need to avoid morbid and pretext investigations against them that insinuate doubts about their versions based on facts of their lives unrelated to the episodes in question.
This type of journalism, experts and activists often say, shifts the attention from the alleged harassers to the victims, giving the idea that the harassment may be credible only if those who suffer it have a credible past and perfectly correspond to a certain model of victim. This modality often dissuades women from publicly denouncing the abuses, fearing – rightly – to be put in the pillory for this. At the same time, however, several cases in which accusations of this type have proved unfounded have revealed the limits of the approach that would not want to question the accusations. It’s an unresolved and complicated debate, but the relevance of an accusation of sexual assault against a potential president of the United States, say American journalists and journalists, necessarily requires thorough investigations, however unpleasant.
The first part of the story
According to Reade, in the spring of 1993 Joe Biden – at the time senator for Delaware – pushed her against a wall in the corridor of a building annexed to the Senate, kissed her neck, put a hand under her skirt and penetrated her with her fingers , then stopping when the woman pushed him away. Months later, Reade said, she was fired for reporting the episode; however, Reade later specified that his complaint did not mention sexual abuse and harassment.
– Also read: The accusation of sexual abuse against Joe Biden
Investigating the accusation on New York Times is Associated Press, despite having only been denied by Biden’s former collaborators, they had found at least two friends of Reade – who remained anonymous – according to which at the time the woman had told them about the episode. The site The Intercept he later found out that in August 1993 Reade’s mother called the talk show Larry King Live of CNN telling that his daughter had to quit her job for “an important senator” because she could not bear the problems she had, which she had not told the press only “out of respect” for that senator. Biden had categorically denied the accusations, but most American commentators had written that, although it was not possible to definitively confirm the accusation, something had probably happened.
The new doubts
The new investigations have changed the opinions of several of them. PBS Newshourfor example, he spoke to 74 former Biden staff members, 62 of whom were women: no one said he had heard of similar episodes about other women, nor said he had ever heard of the episode reported by Reade. One of them instead claimed that Reade was fired because she was not good at her job, and not for alleged problems with Biden. In general, the testimonies collected by PBS Newshour they describe a particularly favorable working environment for women on the Biden staff, unlike the staff of many other senators at the time.
At the same time, many have confirmed another thing that has been said for a long time about Biden: that for decades she has held very physical behaviors towards women, frequently seeking contacts such as hugs and kisses. However, everyone agreed that these behaviors, however inappropriate and perceived by some women as unpleasant, did not conceal sexual intentions. These attitudes of Biden had already been reported, and confirmed by photos and videos: Biden himself had apologized, admitting them, and ensuring that he would pay more attention in the future.
Then there were other elements collected by the media that made us doubt the version of Reade. The woman had talked about Biden’s overly physical behaviors as early as 2019, without mentioning the alleged abuse. In recent weeks, she claimed that at the time she wanted to tell everything, but that the journalists with whom she spoke did not put her at ease and did not gain her trust. Laura McGann, a journalist from Vox who has been investigating the story of Reade for about a year, wrote that this seemed immediately strange to her, given that the main American media after the MeToo case became particularly combative and capable of deepening the investigation of sexual harassment so as not to frighten or make victims uncomfortable.
Reade, who had contacted McGann in April 2019, had told her that Biden had asked her to serve cocktails at an election night, because – another assistant had told her – he liked her legs. She then complained to colleagues that the senator had put his hands on her neck and hair making her uncomfortable, ending up being fired. His story, Reade had explicitly told McGann, was not about inappropriate conduct but an abuse of power. Months later Reade drastically changed his version. McGann asked Reade to account for these inconsistencies, getting the answer that sexual abuse is still an abuse of power for her.
Always investigating the story, in 2019 – when Reade’s accusation did not include sexual harassment – Reade had encouraged McGann to speak with a friend to whom he had previously told the experience of Biden’s staff. Her friend had explicitly said that the story “was not so bad” compared to other similar events: “she never tried to kiss her directly. He never tried to touch her. It was one of those “I’m sorry you misunderstood” situations ». After Reade’s new accusations, McGann asked her friend why she was so explicit in denying there had been harassment or sexual abuse, getting the answer that she didn’t want to add elements that made Reade uncomfortable.
Another point in the Reade version seemed strange. The woman said that the violence occurred “in a semi-private area” between the Senate building and the Russell Senate Office Building, a related facility. PBS Newshour he followed that path in search of similar spaces, without finding any. Instead, the area is very popular with senators and collaborators, making that which Biden is accused of “a brazen aggression in an area with a high risk of being seen.” As the same says PBS Newshour, however, victims of sexual violence often find it difficult to accurately remember the details of what happened, due to the severe trauma that followed.
Other details told by Reade were also called into question by colleagues’ testimonials: for example, they explained that Biden wanted young collaborators not to do things like serving cocktails, to avoid giving bad impressions. The very existence of an evening like the one described by Reade has generated doubts, given that Biden generally avoided social events – most of the time at the end of each day he returned home by train in Delaware – and that a directive from his office prohibited the staff working on fundraising events.
Then there was another article that made us discuss: Politic she spoke to a dozen people who have dealt with Reade over the years, who said that she used to lie about herself to get cheap loans and avoid paying rents and bills. The article was criticized because in many cases the privacy of victims of sexual violence has been used by the media to discredit their accusations. The New York Times however, she has published other similar, more detailed accusations: Reade for a decade testified in various trials presenting herself as an expert on domestic violence graduated from a University of Seattle, who however denied that the woman obtained the final certification, as she claimed instead to qualify in the courts .
After the article, Reade’s attorney, famous for representing other victims of important men including Harvey Weinstein, decided to end his relationship with Reade, claiming however that he continued to believe her.
What to think
Up VoxMcGann wrote that investigating the story when there was still no talk of sexual abuse, in April 2019, he ardently wished to be the first to publish it, especially knowing that other newspapers were following her. Not having found solid evidence, however, she did not, as did the other authoritative media that had investigated her. After Reade’s new and more serious accusations, McGann spoke to us again for a long time, finding himself in great difficulty. If she had been a friend of hers, she wrote, she certainly would have believed her, but being a journalist she had to question her version.
“It is unrealistic to pretend to find a” perfect victim “,” wrote McGann, recalling that a victim of sexual abuse often runs into understandably contradictions and difficulties in telling his story, which add to the suffering of reliving the trauma. But the investigations that carried out the MeToo movement were based on large amounts of evidence, McGann writes, while Reade’s case is far more complicated and doubtful.
Despite the great deployment of forces, no American newspaper has found evidence of other similar episodes regarding Biden: and it is at least unusual, many American journalists have pointed out, that a man has predatory behaviors only once in a lifetime. Even the team that thoroughly investigated his past on behalf of Barack Obama, when he chose him as vice president, found nothing like this; and nothing emerged in the next eight years, when Biden was one of the most important and visible people in the world. Add to this the fact that the version of Reade has changed a lot over time, and has several contradictions.
I wanted to believe Reade when he contacted me, and I worked very hard to find the evidence for others to believe it too. I haven’t found them. None of this means Reade is lying, but this leaves us in the limbo of MeToo: a story that could be true but that we cannot prove.
In all of this, McGann says, Reade did not tell his whole story in April 2019, at the beginning of the election campaign for the primaries, when it was not clear who would benefit from a possible scandal against Biden. Instead, he did it later, when Biden had almost won the primary, and the only one who – very unlikely – could have beaten him was Bernie Sanders, whom Reade openly supported. Reade, however, told his story for the first time on a Sanders sympathizer podcast. A few days earlier he had replied to a tweet from a journalist who underlined how the increase in investigations into Biden’s past could have damaged him by writing: “Yes. Timing … Wait … tick toc ».
Yup. Timing… wait for it… .tic toc
– taratweets (Alexandra Tara Reade) (@ReadeAlexandra) March 4, 2020
«My story has never changed. I simply didn’t say all the details. It’s very simple. I hid this story because I was afraid of a powerful man, “Reade told McGann to defend himself against these accusations.
The behavior to be taken against the accusation in Biden has put many Democrats, and especially many Democrats, in crisis: for years the party has always supported the importance of believing in the victims of sexual abuse, trying to distinguish itself in this from the Republicans, who they oversaw much more detailed allegations such as those against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump himself.
On the Washington Post, editorialist Jennifer Rubin explained why that between the accusation of Reade against Biden and that of Christine Blasey Ford against Kavanaugh is a false equivalence. If there are many doubts about the first, the second was confirmed by many testimonies and facts that emerged from journalistic and Congress investigations. “Believing women doesn’t mean we have to be blind to the facts or not want to deliberately see,” wrote Rubin. «Sexual violence is a crime. In our judicial system and before the court of public opinion, facts still matter, and not all accusations have the same dignity. Some are totally false. As for Reade, it is time for the media to stop suggesting that if you believe Ford, you must also believe Reade. ”