This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 3/21/98
Page B4, Opinion; Copyright 1998 by Beth David

Willey: 'Welcome to the world of sexual assault'

Feminists everywhere have been asked, "What's different about Kathleen Willey's story?" That's easy. Hers is a story of sexual assault. Not, "He asked and I said no." Not one of mutual lust or of infatuation. But sexual assault, plain and simple (and, of course, allegedly).

The familiar attempts to discredit Ms. Willey cause flashbacks to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas debacle. "Why didn't she say something immediately? Why didn't she just smack him? Why did she keep on friendly terms with him?"

Ed Bradley asked Ms. Willey if she had done anything to "invite" an advance. She answered with all the soul-searching uncertainty that so many before her have felt. But she does not describe an "advance." And make no mistake: Women do NOT invite assault.

Ms. Willey says she didn't "send the wrong signal." What if she did? Why is it that the moment a woman flirts with a man, he instantly gets permission to disavow responsibility for his actions? Flirting is flirting. Assault is assault. It's time to stop blaming women for men's behavior.

On "60 Minutes," Ms. Willey said, "I ... thought ... maybe I ought to just give him a good slap across the face. And then I thought, well, I don't think you can slap the president of the United States like that." Nor can you slap your boss, or your uncle, or your father's best friend, or any man who's strong enough to hurt you. Welcome to the world of sexual assault.

NOW's national president, Patricia Ireland, told CNN, "It's extremely unlikely that a prosecutor would take that kind of a case to court." Yeah, we know. After all, he didn't rape her, did he? He only touched her, held her there, just long enough to make his point: I have the power and you don't.

Most of us would love to see the assaulter get his comeuppance. But it's too often at the woman's expense, even when he's just the guy who sits next to you in Literature 101.

That's one reason why women opt to put it all behind them -- not an option for Lewinsky or Willey.

As a staunch supporter of a woman's right to go public or be silent about assault, the behavior of The Despicable Ken Starr disturbs me as much as Clinton's behavior (alleged). Because, with The Despicable Ken Starr on the loose, no woman is free to slip away for a life of healing, or forgetting, or ...

We're all tainted by the rumor-driven, gossip-proliferating tactics this hate-monger uses at our behest. This brings on another flashback to Anita Hill. As her story unfolded, with each disdainful question posed by a member of that embarrassingly inept, perfectly cast committee, another story from another woman about another boss emerged. It spread like wildfire, engulfing the nation and striking fear into every politician with enough brain power to know he'd have to deal with it legislatively.

And the most striking thing about these stories was that everyone knew women had no legal recourse until the Civil Rights Act of 1991 passed, a direct result of Anita Hill's courage, stamina, dignity and determination to be heard.

This law can't change the behavior of men who refuse to change. But it does give women a weapon to fight back. Because decency and respect do not automatically flow to women in the workplace. We must demand them, even from the president of the United States. Especially from the president of the United States.

Why did she stay so friendly with one of the most powerful men in the world, who has the resources to help or destroy her and everyone around her in ways the rest of us cannot even fathom? Surely you jest. Even Anita Hill asked Clarence Thomas for a job recommendation.

Had it not been for The Despicable Ken Starr, Willey's recommendation from Clinton may well have read: "She exercises discretion in delicate matters."

In the interest of fairness, feminists concede that Kathleen Willey might be the biggest liar of the bunch. If she is, I grant her the Greatest Actor of the Waning Millennium Award. But I don't think I'll be needing that trophy just yet.


Beth David owns YASNY Designs in Fairhaven.