Mary Sanchez

What not to say when you’re accused of sexual assault

Future Missouri state lawmaker Steven Roberts Jr. has been accused of sexual assault by future colleague Cora Faith Walker.
Future Missouri state lawmaker Steven Roberts Jr. has been accused of sexual assault by future colleague Cora Faith Walker. File photos

A Neanderthal reply to sexual assault has been issued by yet another accused Missouri politician.

The line of defense goes like this: Sure, I’ve been sexual with her before, not proud of it. We drank that night at my apartment, what kind of married woman does that? It was late and she wanted it, too.

Not smart. But this is the tactic of the statement released Monday afternoon by Steven Roberts Jr. Roberts is an incoming legislator being accused by another incoming legislator of rape.

Cora Faith Walker filed a report with St. Louis police last week, saying Roberts sexually assaulted her in August. This weekend, she told her story to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Walker, of Ferguson, is to represent the 74th District. And Roberts, of St. Louis, will represent the 77th District come January.

Regardless of the outcome of the allegations, Missouri leadership must make this case a turning point. Their sustained response matters. It was bad enough that rampant sexism was ever tolerated at the Capitol. Now, leadership is responsible for proving they will pursue the dignified political culture they’ve sworn they want.

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Walker said she remembers nothing past her second glass of wine and that she woke up in the bed of Roberts’ apartment the next morning. That raises the possibility a date rape drug was used.

Roberts’ statement of denial branded Walker an adulterer and a liar. “Mrs. Walker’s letter to legislative leaders a few days ago makes an unbelievable statement that she, an attorney and married woman, went to another man’s apartment at 9:30 pm on a Friday night for strictly a business meeting. We actually arrived together to my apartment closer to 11:00 pm. While I am not proud of this situation, it was entirely consensual and I did nothing illegal.”

OK. Apparently not everyone got schooled, despite massive public attention on sexual assault lately. Roberts, your defense is in whether or not relations occurred without consent. It’s not in convincing people that Walker is a slut.

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For years, a crude atmosphere was allowed to permeate Jefferson City politics. Sexual harassment of women who worked in and around the Capitol was common, with some men instigating it, some on the sidelines amused by it — and clearly not enough men being offended enough to stop it.

The escapades were often egged on and then summarily dismissed as only so much drunken fun. It all was placed under a “boys will be boys” mentality. As if women are just supposed to take it, being the outnumbered gender in Jefferson City political circles.

But eventually, women were fed up. In June 2015, The Star’s political reporters examined the attitudes and the antics involved.

House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican of Town and Country, and Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence, both resigned from the legislature. Inappropriate texts with interns and accusations of sexual harassment were involved.

There is a measure of dignity to the letter Walker sent to Capitol officials, alerting them to the police report. She’s cognizant that Roberts is merely accused, not charged and certainly not convicted of anything. The tone is to the point.

Walker clearly expects a strong response, suggesting options. She’s doesn’t assume to know what’s best to ensure fairness and safety. She asked that Roberts not be sworn in until the investigation is complete. If that can’t be done, she asked if Roberts could be monitored by security while he is in the Capitol building.

Other politicians could help create zero tolerance, shutting down lewd commentary made at the expense of women. That’s not too much to ask. And it would put people on notice for what is acceptable, possibly even dissuading more egregious behavior.

House Speaker Todd Richardson has vowed to take the matter seriously, to monitor the police investigation. He also raised the valid point that until an official is sworn in, the House doesn’t have jurisdiction.

Walker now joins a group of women, including college-age interns, who opened themselves to public ridicule and scrutiny to force changes. They have spoken to reporters on and off the record. They’ve formed alliances with men who find the behavior equally despicable. Walker adds her story without the cloak of anonymity. If the tables were turned, one wonders if men would be so brave.

Women in state politics had to act to be treated with the dignity and respect that should have been theirs all long. That’s the shame of Missouri politics. It’s a historical record that reactions now cannot erase, but certainly demand.

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