I wrote about my own experience with Mr. Biden last month — about the time in 2014 that he grabbed my shoulders, smelled my hair, and kissed the back of my head — and soon after, other women came forward about their own experiences with uninvited and unwanted intimate behavior in professional settings. Even though his defenders reduced the behavior to “hugging” (it was not) and shifted the focus to his intent (it was good intent!) and made up false political motives to shift the attention to me (she endorsed Bernie in 2016!), most reasonable people understood that this kind of behavior with women violates not just their bodily autonomy but also demonstrates a lack of basic understanding of social norms. Most people acknowledge: Men don’t usually kiss, smell, rub noses with, place their hands on the thighs of, or touch foreheads with random women they don’t know. Yet some men do, especially powerful men, who are protected by privilege and a crew of self-interested enablers who don’t want to lose their access to power by calling out the obvious.
The subsequent conversation produced a few uncomfortable questions: What level of accountability is necessary when the offender is someone you like and has also done good things for society, including women? What is the appropriate punishment when the behavior is wrong and unwanted and violates basic consent principles, but doesn’t rise to the level of harassment or assault? What do we do when the offender hasn’t bothered to take the first step toward forgiveness?