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In the weeks prior to former Vice President Joe Biden becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, a former staffer, Tara Reade, accused him of having sexually assaulted her in 1993.
Even as multiple people have come forward to corroborate Reade’s accusation, the Biden campaign has maintained that the accusations are false.
Biden’s opponent in the 2020 election, President Donald Trump, has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, including one of his ex-wives. Most of those accusations came out during the 2016 campaign, but they did not prevent Trump from winning the presidency.
In the wake of the global #MeToo Movement and its “Believe Women” philosophy, which urges people to take accusations of sexual assault seriously, the fact that the two leading candidates for president have each been accused of sexual misconduct will likely make the choice difficult for some voters.
Tara Reade’s accusations against Biden
On March 26, in an interview on The Katie Halper Show, Reade detailed how she was allegedly assaulted by then Senator Biden in 1993. At the time of the alleged assault, Reade was in her mid-20s and a staff assistant in Biden’s office.
On the day in question, Reade said she was asked to bring a gym bag to Biden. When she met with the senator, he addressed her by name and moved in on her.
“It was the strangest thing. There was no like exchange really. He just had me up against the wall … I remember he just had me up against the wall and the wall was cold. It happened all at once. The gym bag, I don’t know where it went. I handed it to him. It was gone and then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And then he went down my skirt, but then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers. And he was kissing me at the same time.”
Reade recalled him asking, “Do you want to go somewhere else?” After she resisted and pulled away, she said Biden told her, “Hey, c’mon, I heard you liked me?” followed by “You’re nothing to me. You’re nothing, nothing.”
Reade said she did not report the assault at the time, but did discuss being sexually harassed with her supervisor. Reade recalled that her supervisor, a woman, dismissed her accusation.
“Basically she was also admonishing me to keep my head down if I wanted to last.” Reade said. Since Reade reported the alleged assault, two witnesses have come forward to corroborate parts of her testimony.
A former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, told NPR that she remembers a conversation in 1995 or 1996 in which Reade told her about being assaulted by Biden. A former coworker, Lorraine Sanchez, said Reade told her a former boss harassed her, though she did not mention being assaulted.
Reade has also tweeted a video of a woman, purported to be her mother, calling into the Larry King Live show in 1993. In the clip, the woman speaks about her daughter having worked for a “prominent senator” and having not reported sexual harassment out of “respect” for the man.
Biden’s campaign has said the incident “absolutely did not happen.” A campaign spokeswoman said of Reade’s story, “Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue.”
On Friday, May 1, Biden provided his first public comments on Reade’s sexual assault allegations, saying in both a written statement and on an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe" that the events as described by Reade “never happened."
Reade and Biden’s murky history
In 2019, Reade was one of eight women who accused Biden of inappropriate touching or violating their personal space. He was also accused of making inappropriate comments about young girls. The first woman to come forward, in March 2019, was Lucy Flores, a Democrat.
Flores accused Biden of kissing the back of her head at a campaign event.
Biden initially responded to Flores’ allegation, saying he does not believe he acted inappropriately, while acknowledging he has “offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort.”
A few days later, Biden released a video in which he acknowledged “Social norms are changing,” adding that he would be more “mindful about respecting personal space.”
A wave of accusations similar to Flores’ followed. One accuser was Reade who said that Biden “used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck.” She did not mention being sexually assaulted at that time.
Some have cast doubts on Reade’s account, accusing her of lying and changing her story. Prior to these accusations, she had praised Biden for his legislative efforts related to stopping violence against women.
In March 2017, using a different Twitter account than she now uses, she tweeted in support of “My old boss".
It has also been alleged that Reade is intentionally smearing Biden because of her support for Russia. In posts that she has since deleted, Reade praised Russia, calling President Vladimir Putin a “genius,” while also criticizing the US’s “hypocrisy and imperialism.”
Dozens of accusations against Trump
During the 2016 election, 24 separate accusations surfaced against Trump. The accusations range from inappropriate touching to sexual assault and rape. Some allegations go as far back as the 1980s, while the most recent incident at that time allegedly occurred in 2013.
According to a divorce deposition, Ivana Trump, the first of Trump’s three wives, accused him of raping her after an argument in 1989. In a separate statement, Ivana said, “I referred to this as a ‘rape’, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.” Per the conditions of the divorce, Ivana is not permitted to talk about the marriage without Trump’s permission.
(Marital rape was not a crime in New York until 1984.)
Trump himself gave credence to some of his accusers in the Access Hollywood tape that was released by the Washington Post weeks before the 2016 election. On the video, Trump can be heard bragging to reporter Billy Bush about kissing and touching women without permission.
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
In multiple interviews with Howard Stern, Trump also talked about his sexual encounters with various models. In one interview, he said, as the owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, he regularly went backstage prior to the show to “inspect” his pageant.
“I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner.”
Mariah Billado was among five former Miss Teen USA contestants who said Trump walked through their dressing room while many of the girls were naked. Some contestants were only 15 at the time.
Despite these accusations, Trump beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to win the presidency in 2016.
In 2019, E. Jean Carroll, a former advice columnist for Elle Magazine, added to the list of women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Carroll accused Trump of assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s.
Following multiple accusations of rape and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, the #MeToo Movement exploded into a worldwide reckoning for sexual abusers. Hundreds of famous people, mostly men, have faced public accusations as victims of sexual assault have pushed to have their stories heard.
As both Trump’s election and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh have shown, though, such accusations are not necessarily an impediment to success in politics.
It’s uncertain how the Democratic Party will react to Reade’s accusations against Biden. Some members of the party continue to support him as the nominee, while others have said he should step down.
According to official statistics gathered by the US Department of Justice, only 40.4% of rapes or sexual assaults were reported in 2017. In 2018, that percentage dropped to 24.9%.
Research has found that victims of sexual assault and rape are often reluctant to report an incident for numerous reasons. These include fear of reprisal, belief that the police would or could not do anything about it, lack of proof and not wanting others to know about the attack.
False reporting of rape is rare according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, occurring in “between 2 percent and 10 percent” of cases.