The Result of the Alabama Special Election: An Indicator of the Strength of #MeToo?

This Tuesday, the surprising result of Alabama’s special senatorial election not only suggests a shift in the political landscape, but also may allude to the growing currency of the #MeToo campaign.  Former federal prosecutor Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the deep-red state in over twenty years, prevailing over former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.  While Moore has made bigoted remarks, such as claiming that Muslim Americans are unfit for office and that homosexuality should be criminalized, an alarming number of accusations regarding his prior sexual relations with under-aged women surfaced during the campaign.  Although Moore admits to approaching teenage girls while in his thirties, he continues to deny the allegations of sexual assault.

While the Alabama election upset could signify a greater concern for women’s issues, an exit poll conducted by The Washington Post suggests Moore’s defeat was not necessarily due to his character.  Despite a long history of obstacles to voting, an extremely high turn-out of the African American electorate – even higher than the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections when Barack Obama was on the ballot – may have been responsible for Moore’s defeat. Jones had a narrow victory, winning by less than 1.5% of the vote, with a majority of white voters, including those with college degrees, still supporting Moore. Nevertheless, as The Economist explains, many Republican voters chose to stay home on election day; thus, suggesting that some voters may have taken the allegations of sexual abuse into consideration before going to the polls.  Furthermore, Republican Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator stated, “I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore…the State of Alabama deserves better.”

As Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of younger women surfaced, it illuminated many important issues, pertaining to younger women in particular, such as child marriage and statutory rape laws, that also need to be addressed in this critical moment for women’s rights.  In response to Moore’s candidacy, activist Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, the only non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to assisting women and children escape from forced marriages, argues in an op-ed published by CNN, that legal loopholes, such as judicial approval, permit women under the age of eighteen to marry and that twenty-five states have no legal minimum age for marriage. Thus, as many marriages occur between younger women to much older men, Reiss argues that states are sanctioning statutory rape.  Furthermore, between 2000 and 2010, according to data from the thirty-eight states that track marital age, more than 167,000 children were married, some as young as ten.

Next week, as the topic for discussion for the eighth-grade group meetings is the #MeToo movement, I am eager to observe the similarities and differences between the responses of the younger and older women in the room.  I hope that the discussion provides the space, time and support necessary to process, understand, and heal from the mass storm of scandals.  As more and more men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill are ousted from their high-ranking positions each day, it is important to have a conversation with those who will ultimately be the inheritors of this dynamic political and social climate.