For a man often saluted for his brashness and willingness to speak truth to power, it is ironic to see Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio — a politician known to have greater ambitions like becoming the next Speaker of the House — ensnared in a scandal that effectively claims that, when he was presented with the opportunity to serve as both leader and hero, he instead chose silence and complicity.
But then again, the influential congressman and his cohorts are currently behaving in ways that are both beneath the dignity of their offices and contribute to the culture that prevents victims — especially male victims — of sexual violence from speaking out.
As reported by NBC News, the Ohio congressman has been accused by former wrestlers that he once coached at Ohio State University of failing to stop or report the team doctor who molested them and other students. Jordan has told Politico that the allegations that he knew anything are “not true,” adding, “If I did, I would have done something about it.”
Men face a unique plight when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or abuse.
It would be bad enough for Jordan to defend his supposed integrity at the expense of victims who have courageously spoken out, but it is utterly disappointing to see so many Republicans rushing to defend Jordan. Men face a unique plight when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or abuse. Not only will they be challenged like their women counterparts over the validity of their accusations but, as we have learned from actor Terry Crews’ revelation, even if they are believed, they may then face people questioning their manhood. The taunting they often face (which may not yet have happened to the OSU wrestlers) is intended to further belittle and shame men, adding another toxic layer to the victim blaming.
But men experience sexual violence at greater rates than most people understand — and even social scientists believe there is widespread underreporting. According to RAINN, male college students ages 18-24 are more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-students of the same age. A more recent review of survey data about sexual violence in general, which came after the publicity surrounding the Sandusky case at Penn State, suggests that 38 percent of reported cases of sexual violence are perpetrated against men and boys, and that when accounting for differences in how sexual violence is described, men and boys may well experience sexual violence at the same rate as women. But only about 16 percent of men with government-documented cases of sexual abuse consider themselves "victims," and only about 10 percent of rape cases documented with the government involve male victims.
Clearly, the problem is not just that men are victimized, but that their experiences are minimized, and they're discouraged from reporting or from seeing themselves as victims.
Questioning the victims’ veracity or motives for one part of the story inherently makes them seem less reliable about the entirety of their accounts.
That makes the willingness of Republican leaders to defend Jordan by trashing the victims of his team doctor all the more disgusting: Questioning the victims’ veracity or motives for one part of the story inherently makes them seem less reliable about the entirety of their accounts.
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President Trump, for instance said last week that he “100 percent believes” Jordan. “I don’t believe them at all,” Trump said of his accusers. "Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington and I believe him 100 percent," Trump said, adding there was "no question in mind." (Trump going against the word of victims of sexual harassment and misconduct is par for the course; he’s defended the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and well, himself.)
Trump, however, is not alone. Just look at Jordan’s Republican colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who said the allegations don't "pass the smell test." And Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, declaring there was “unanimous support” within the group for Jordan before going on to suggest that there was “political component” to the allegations. Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, accused the “liberal left” of trying to take down Jordan.
Then came Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., who offered the dubious assertion, “There’s probably a money trail involved.” He went on to say, “As long as there’s people willing to pay somebody to do something, there are people willing to take the money.”
Even the man whom Jordan would like to replace, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has rallied to the embattled congressman's defense. During a weekly press conference alongside other GOP House leaders, Ryan said, "I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of honesty and a man of integrity."
If the lack of desire to even give Jordan’s accusers the benefit of the doubt weren’t frustrating enough, Ryan dismissed calls for a congressional investigation. Let him tell it, The House Ethics Committee "investigates things that members do while they’re here, not things that happened a couple of decades ago when they weren’t in Congress."
In addition to the conspiracy theories and pathetic displays of cronyism, there is also an organized the PR campaign being led by a conservative firm, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. As the Washington Post reported, the firm’s president, Diana Banister, has circulated a statement from former Ohio State wrestling coaches that parrotted the same defense as Jordan.
"We all worked on the wrestling coaching staff during Jim's tenure at The Ohio State University,” the statement reads. None of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers. The well-being of student-athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up."
(Joining them in the media defense are the likes of Breitbart, who just last year dismissed Roy Moore's victims and engaged in a systematic campaign to discredit them, with sympathetic headlines such as “Media Minimize Anti-Trump Dossier Role of Law Firm in Jim Jordan Wrestling Team Scandal.")
But Jordan’s loudest apologists on Capitol Hill didn’t know him then nor were they been privy to any details shared with him or which he witness. All they seemingly share is Jordan’s lack of concern for victims of sexual abuse and assault.
But even one Jordan supporter from the era can't help but admit that something was wrong, even as his unintentionally illustrates the problem of how sexual violence against men isn't taken seriously enough. Rob Archer, who wrestled at Ohio State from 1993 to 1998, and supports Jordan's side of the story, told Politico of the abuses of the team doctor, “It was pretty common knowledge it was going on, yes.” Archer elaborated on the thinking at the time: “I don’t think anybody reported anything to a coach because it wasn’t ‘abuse.’ It was more like they were going, ‘Hey, this is inappropriate,’ We’d deal with it, and we’d go on.”
But, of course, it was abuse. And the larger problem for the victims who have come forward isn't just that Jordan may have ignored it then, but that feeling that everybody seemingly ignored it or minimized it even when they admit that they knew something was off.
Jordan, meanwhile, fancies himself as a truth-seeker and champion of the underdog, but that he seemingly sees a political conspiracy against him as of primary importance rather than that the young men of his team suffered abuse under his watch. By making his political career the preeminent concern in this situation, he continues to participate in a culture that minimizes and erases the experiences of men like the wrestlers at OSU.
I’m angry that so many people (and so many conservatives) simply do not seem to care. Everyone should be: The prevalence of sexual violence against men and boys is so widespread and we cannot end it if we cannot even name it. I feel for these men who have to relieve the horrors of their abuse and the cowardice of those that protected him. I worry that many other men watching this will remain silent, assuming the powers that be will work as feverishly to deny their efforts for consequence.
And I worry that, as has happened far too often, that we will all let them.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the book "I Can't Date Jesus" (July 2018, Atria Books).