Joe Biden scandal: Invading personal space is not the same as 'grabbing them by the p***y'
Equating violation of someone's personal space, which is certainly not correct, with the larger issue of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement does not appear justified
"I felt invaded. I felt there was a violation of my personal space," Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Nevada Lucy Flores said of former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday. Flores became the first woman to allege inappropriate conduct by Biden shortly after a picture of him with former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's wife became viral on social media.
The picture showed Biden standing very close to Stephanie Carter and whispering in her ear. The image was triggering for many, particularly those who value their personal space, like Flores.
Personal space of an individual is an approximate area around them, encroachment of which can feel threatening or uncomfortable. It is the zone around people which they regard as psychologically theirs and is subjective. This zone can comfortably be occupied by people close to individuals like their friends and acquaintances, however, strangers are unwelcome to invade this space. The law does not recognize a specific crime based on a violation of personal space. However, it does recognize actions based on assault, harassment, and unwelcome touching.
Flores, in her account, alleged that in 2014 Biden approached her from behind, smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head without her consent, which made her very uncomfortable.
“For the record, I don’t believe that it was a bad intention. I’m not in any way suggesting that I felt sexually assaulted or sexually harassed. I felt invaded. I felt there was a violation of my personal space,” she said. “And it’s been dismissed as if it’s just Biden being Biden. Boys will be boys. No big deal. It is a big deal.”
Shortly after Flores' accusation, another accuser, former congressional aide Amy Lappos, called Biden's behavior inappropriate alleging that he pulled her head towards him at a political event to "rub noses." Lappos clarified that the gesture wasn't "sexual" but disrespectful.
The recent developments have put Biden's conduct with women under the scanner. The same conduct which is described by his supporters as affectionate, his critics have deemed "handsy," and potentially damaging to his prospective presidential hopes for the 2020 polls.
Not reading a person's interpersonal cues and violating their personal space is disconcerting, and the current outrage towards Biden, particularly from the Republicans, is understandable considering he is an influential political personality.
However, the #MeToo outrage regarding the issue from the right is a bit rich considering Biden's actions by no measure be equated to sexual assault or comments like "grabbing them by their p****es" that Republican US President Donald Trump made in the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
The president was recorded engaging in an "extremely lewd conversation about women" in 2005 with host Billy Bush where he bragged about sexually assaulting women. The clip was released by The Washington Post before the 2016 presidential elections.
"I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything," Trump was heard saying in the tape.
Commentators and lawyers have described such an action as sexual assault. Multiple women, during Trump's campaign in 2016, and even after he became president, came out to lay sexual assault allegations against him. The president denied the allegations by nearly 20 women and even went to the length of mocking some of his accusers and suggested that they were too unattractive to be sexually assaulted.
None of Trump's accusers have retracted their statements or issued clarifications on the sexual harassment allegations laid against him.
Biden's response to this crisis has been vastly different from that of the president, where in a statement he said that he never believed he acted inappropriately, however, he was willing to listen to the accusers.
"(I) offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday.
"I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear but we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
Shortly before Biden's statement, the woman in the viral picture which initiated the whole debate, Stephanie Carter, came to the immediate defense of the politician.
In a blog post on Medium, she called the picture "misleadingly extracted." She said that the former vice president's display of affection toward her in 2015 was appreciated, as she was “uncharacteristically nervous” after slipping on ice after she arrived at the Pentagon earlier in the day for the swearing-in ceremony of her husband.
Carter's defense, however, certainly does not take away from Flores and Lappos' accusations of inappropriate conduct by the former vice president. The allegations have brought attention to the issue of invading an individual's personal space as some people struggle to understand its concept and end up violating it, however, equating this concern with the larger issue of sexual assault and the #MeToo movement does not appear justified.