Recent allegations of child sex crimes against Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz highlights a pattern of politcians being excused for sexual misconduct.
By Brent Dondalski
Over the past few weeks, reports have come out detailing how Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL 1st District) allegedly trafficked and had sex with “underage women,” as the media sometimes calls them, which are more popularly known as children. The accusations include a myriad of crimes, including paying for flights for these children, exchanging money for sex, and even requesting a preemptive pardon from Trump. While Matt Gaetz denies the validity of these reports, the evidence is embarrassingly abundant and also exposes a larger trend of apathy towards sex crimes when they are committed by powerful individuals.
Though the investigation is ongoing, mountains of evidence are already piling up against Matt Gaetz. This is stemming from an investigation into Florida politician and close friend of Gaetz, Joel Greenberg, who was indicted on multiple sex trafficking and sex crime charges. The same morning that The New York Times broke this story, rumors emerged about Matt Gaetz retiring from Congress so he can take on a role at Newsmax, an organization that spreads right-wing misinformation. Gaetz already seemed ready for the controversy coming his way.
One of Gaetz’ bizarre defenses against these allegations is that he claims he has been very generous towards his past partners and that the hotel rooms and flights he’s paid for were for a past girlfriend or girlfriends who were definitely of age. Gaetz seems to acknowledge that these excursions took place, with the only disputed fact being of the woman’s or women’s age. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Gaetz also denied having photos taken of him with child prostitutes, which is strange considering he was never actually accused of this.
Additionally, it’s been reported that Gaetz at one point sought a blanket pardon from Trump, whom he has been a staunch defender of, even through his worst scandals. I’m pretty sure innocent people don’t ask to be pardoned from crimes they think they’ll be convicted of in the future.
The most damning evidence comes from Gaetz’ past Venmo transactions. In May 2018, Gaetz sent $900 to Joel Greenberg, with the description of the transaction reading “Hit up _____.” However, instead of a blank, he wrote the nickname of an 18 year old girl, who, along with two other girls, then received a payment from Greenburg. In fact, for a couple of men approaching their forties Greenburg and Gaetz seem to have a eyebrow-raising amount of interactions with really young women on the Venmo platform. Seminole County auditors took note of these transactions, and found similarly questionable transactions amounting to over $300,000 between the two politicians.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are a few key pieces of evidence belonging to a much more extensive investigation. At this point Matt Gaetz is looking pretty guilty, however, he is just one example of a politician committing a sex crime. Issues of sexual assault and sex trafficking are made worse when surrounding politicians, pundits, and journalists are quick to defend such indefensible actions. In his interview with Matt Gaetz, Tucker Carlson began by admitting he had not prepared any questions for the interview and that Gaetz was invited on simply to “tell us what the truth is from [Gaetz’] perspective.” Of course, finding new ways to spit on journalistic integrity is nothing new for Fox News, but this invitation to have an accused rapist get on stage and tell us whatever “the truth” is reveals just how apathetic journalists can be towards issues of sex crimes.
Of course, this attitude is very much partisan. Fox News would certainly have no issue running a story on trafficking allegations if they were made towards a Democrat. Conversely, more moderate-liberal news outlets might be reluctant to seriously report on allegations made towards prominent Democrat politicians. Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade, and the story struggled to pick up mainstrem traction from moderate-liberal outlets. Donald Trump has his very obvious history of misogyny and sexual assault.
It seems we as a society have almost accepted that sex crimes come with the package of being president. In fact, you could extend this logic to politicians too. It feels like people almost expect politicians to carry a certain questionable history. Is this attitude surprising though?
Sexual assault is normalized. Apathy towards sex trafficking is normalized. Predatory behavior, especially by older men, is normalized. The solution to cases like the Matt Gaetz scandal doesn’t solely lie within a conviction, which would be legal accountability, but also starts with attacking problematic attitudes as a form of cultural accountability. We saw shades of this with the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, which forced Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood personnel to finally face the consequences of their actions.
We can’t just point our finger once someone is accused or convicted of a crime. We must scrutinize behavior that normalizes sexual assault. That means when Matt Gaetz tweets “I say we change Florida’s welcome signs to this” in response to a tweet reading “there’s no age that you can’t be be sexy,” we can’t look away. When Nick Fuentes, a conservative streamer who is either a Neo-Nazi or friends with a lot of Neo-Nazis, can tweet “17 years old? What is even the big deal” and still keep his blue checkmark from Twitter, we can’t look away. When the president brags on a radio show about not getting consent, we can’t look away.
When people engage in behavior that disrespects victims of sexual assault, often times they’re telling on themselves. Matt Gaetz being the only “NO” vote on a 2017 anti-human trafficking bill is as symbolic as it is disgusting. I can only imagine what skeletons Nick Fuentes has in his closet if he’s willing to come out as pro-statutory rape. We must pay close attention to all the red flags that pop up in someone’s behavior and be willing to scrutinize them intensely since these behaviors are paving the way for sexual assault. If you can’t confront a culture that encourages misogyny and sexual misconduct, especially within the elite and powerful, then holding them legally accountable will be infinitely more difficult.
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Ryan Ford '23,