When I was 14 years-old, I dated an older guy. My friends were a bit scandalized, but I knew they were just jealous. You see, he was 16. Being a high school freshman dating a junior felt like an incredibly big deal at that age. Though we were only two years apart, we had vastly different maturity levels, as young and quickly-growing children tend to.
That’s part of the reason I am so baffled at the seeming dismissiveness with which some on the right are treating the allegations that Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, attempted to “seduce” (let’s be honest, the correct term is really “molest”) children as young as 14 years old. They’re acting as if it’s normal for a grown man in his 30s to attempt relationships with teenagers.
Sean Hannity called Moore’s alleged interactions "consensual" conservative website Breitbart published an article describing Moore’s conduct as “romantic;” and Alabama Marion County Republican chair David Hall told a reporter, “I don’t really see the relevance of it.” And then there were the various allegations from Moore’s supporters of a conspiracy to take down the politician—as if that were more likely than the idea that multiple women were simply telling the truth.
On Monday, a fifth woman came forward to accuse Moore of sexual wrongdoing. Beverly Young Nelson says that when she was 16 years old, Moore attempted to orally rape her and then told her no one would believe her because “you are a child...I am the District Attorney.” He signed her yearbook before the attack.
This follows several other women who say Moore attempted to “date” them when they were teenagers, and reports from The New Yorker and local media that say Moore was banned from his hometown mall for sexually badgering teen girls and that his predation was an open secret. (As someone who spent her college years working at a mall, trust me when I say that for mall security to ban someone he had to be quite the creep.)
But in a country that so frequently disbelieves women—even in the midst of a national movement to counter that very thing—all the accusations in the world won’t change some people’s minds. A poll showed that 37 percent of evangelicals in Alabama were more likely to support Moore after the allegations. Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler even rationalized the age gap between Moore and his reported victims by citing the Bible: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” That’s because to some people, especially religious conservatives, a girl’s age is not as important as notions of propriety.
There’s a reason why Moore said in an interview that he didn’t date any girls without “the permission of her mother”—his concern, and his base’s concern, is about the perception of properness, not women’s or girls’ well-being. It’s the same reason that the family of a 15-year-old girl had her marry the 24-year-old who got her pregnant. It was statutory rape until her attacker “did the right thing.”
Since the allegations broke, women online have been posting pictures of themselves at 14 years old using the hashtag #MeAt14 to remind conservatives that 14-year-olds aren’t young women who are “seduced” by grown men. They are girls—girls who are abused. It doesn't matter if a 14-year-old looks 18 or if a teenager is wiser than her years. She is still a child. Have you seen or spoken to a teenager lately? If not, try it...and then tell me you think it would be fine for a 32-year-old man to try to "court" them.
As women continue to come out about the candidate—and of course there will be more—the GOP needs to at least pretend to care about girls more than they care about appearances. This is more than just putting party before country. This is putting party before punishing pedophilia. Is passing tax cuts really more important that protecting high schoolers from sexual abuse? Voters in Alabama—and all Republicans—should be asking themselves that very question.
Jessica Valenti is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com—read her weekly column here.