Earlier this week, The New York Times revealed that staunch MAGA supporter and right-wing provocateur Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was being investigated by the Department of Justice as to whether or not the lawmaker had sex with a 17-year-old girl. On Thursday, a more comprehensive report by the Times revealed the focus of the investigation was to determine if Gaetz was involved with “multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.”
As the investigation continues, other disturbing allegations are surfacing: A report from CNN alleges that Gaetz showed nude photos and videos of women he claimed to have had sex with to fellow lawmakers, sometimes while on the House floor. And according to a report from ABC News, Gaetz was involved in a so-called “game” with other U.S. Representatives in which sleeping with “female sexual conquests,” including interns, staffers, and other colleagues, awarded them points. The same report alleges the lawmakers targeted women they believed to be “virgins.”
Gaetz denied all these allegations and said, “The allegations against me are as searing as they are false. I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.”
These allegations are not just repulsive—they’re criminal. What Gaetz has allegedly done is not just disturbing—it’s against the law. It’s abuse. It’s sexual assault. It’s workplace harassment. But you wouldn’t know it by the way some people, including prominent members of the media and political talking heads, are discussing the mounting allegations.
Words matter. And when they’re part of a national dialogue discussing possible sex crimes against at least one underage girl carried out by politicians in positions of power.
CNN’s Jim Scuitto, for example, described underage girls as “young women,” to describe who we know to be at least one underage girl allegedly targeted by Gaetz. He’s hardly the only news anchor to do so. An ABC News headline described the children as “women,” as did The New York Times. The Washington Post called his alleged sexual misconduct with an underage girl a “sexual relationship.” Newsweek published an article that described Gaetz as being “mired in scandal.”
Words matter. And when they’re part of a national dialogue discussing possible sex crimes against at least one underage girl carried out by politicians in positions of power—it’s a glaring sign of how much society, and our government, is willing to protect us. To use passive, if not outright incorrect, language to describe criminal gender-based crimes and sexual harassment is to continue to normalize sexual violence and harassment against women.
Trust me, this country does not need any help in that department.
In the United States, one in three girls are sexually abused before they turn 18. A reported one in five children are solicited sexually on the internet before the age of 18. Eighty-one percent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. One 2016 study found that one in three people have been victims of revenge porn, in which a partner shared nude photos or videos of them to others without their consent.
Our words matter to everyone, but most of all to survivors, who are listening for evidence that what they went through won’t be accepted. That justice is possible.
When we, as a society, fail to describe these alleged crimes for what they are, we position sexual violence as an inevitability children, young girls, and women in the workplace are sure to face. They become simple “mistakes” grown men are bound to make.
When people call what Gaetz is going through a “scandal,” they suggest it’s a black mark on a man’s reputation—a small, insignificant footnote on the record as he continues his ascension to power.
When people call a 17-year-old child a “woman,” they mean she should know better.
When people call whatever the hell sort of garbage these Representatives are alleged to have discussed in relation to bedding women they work with a “game,” they suggest it’s harmless to treat women as sexualized chess pieces to be collected.
Abusers do not need the help of publications, editors, news anchors, and political commentators to explain away their alleged or proven criminal behavior. But those who are targeted and abused do need our help in giving an accurate name to the gender-based violence and harassment they are often subjected to and forced to endure. I’ll say it again: our words matter to everyone, but most of all to survivors, who are listening for evidence that what they went through won’t be accepted. That justice is possible.
So let’s be super clear: If the allegations against Gaetz are found to be true, he is not going through a “sex scandal.” He’s an abusive criminal.
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