Groping Is Definitely Sexual Assault

In light of the allegations against Senator Al Franken—and misguided defenses of his alleged actions—experts tell Broadly how sexual violence and abuse run a range of behaviors.

Nov 16 2017, 10:41pm

Photos via Wikimedia Commons

Today, sportscaster and news anchor Leeann Tweeden accused Minnesota Senator Al Franken of sexually assaulting her in 2006.

In an article titled "Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, and There’s Nothing Funny About It," Tweeden described being on a USO tour of the Middle East in 2006 with then-comedian Franken, who had not yet been elected as the junior Senator from Minnesota. Tweeden says that while the two were rehearsing, Franken insisted on practicing the kiss from their skit.

"He said to me, 'We need to rehearse the kiss,'" Tweeden wrote, adding that after she told Franken, "Relax All, this isn’t SNL… we don’t need to rehearse the kiss," the Senator "put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth."

Tweeden wrote that later, when she returned from the USO tour to the US, she received a CD of photos that included one of Franken smiling for the camera and groping her breasts as she slept on the plane. After seeing the photograph, Tweeden says, she "felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?"

In response to Tweeden’s allegations, Franken released a statement this morning that read, "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."

Tweeden’s allegations of forced kissing and groping against Senator Franken came two days after California Representative Jackie Speier testified during a House Administration Committee hearing that she knows of two sitting Congress members who have sexually harassed staffers. "Victims [have had] their private parts grabbed on the House floor," Speier said without revealing the names of the two Congress members.

Tweeden’s allegations and Speier’s testimony might remind you of last year’s presidential campaign, when Donald Trump was accused of groping by multiple women. Even after the infamous Hollywood Access tape captured Trump saying, "You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy," Trump’s supporters continued to back him, making excuses for sexual misconduct and misconstruing the definition of sexual assault.

When asked if Access Hollywood tape described sexual assault, then Alabama Senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions told The Weekly Standard, "I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch."

Legally, the US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as "any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient." Fondling is included in the Justice Department’s definition along with forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, and attempted rape.

"Kissing someone against their will is most certainly classified as unwanted touch," Dr. Sherryll Kraizer—the founder and director of Coalition for Children, a non-profit organization working to increase child safety and prevent child abuse—told Broadly.

"[Groping] is absolutely on the continuum of sexual violence," Kristen Houser, the chief public affairs officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), told the Huffington Post. "Sexually violent acts fall along a continuum that go from no contact to very brutal physical violations such as rape or sexual homicides. And [the NSVRC] absolutely include any unwanted touching, kissing and groping on that continuum."

When asked if the public might simply misunderstand the definition of sexual assault, Dr. Kraizer was incredulous. "I think we’re pretty sophisticated about [sexual assault]," she answered. "Going back 30 years, we have had conversations about [sexual assault] in public. I think people understand that sexual assault is not just penetration. It can be touching the body unwanted or asking somebody to touch your body."

"I think people are pretty clear that sexual harassment and abuse run a range of behaviors."