Almost immediately after The Washington Post reported that a Senate candidate from Alabama had allegedly been involved with a 14-year-old when he was 32, the responses began.
Xavier Burgin, a film director from Alabama, tweeted that Roy Moore's supporters would not care if, as a 32-year-old, he inappropriately touched a 14-year-old girl.
Those with close ties to the Deep South state — one of the reddest — often found themselves on the receiving end of comments about Alabamians being backwards and unrefined and tolerating sexual relationships between men in their 30s and underage girls.
The number of Alabamians appearing to justify the allegations against the former judge, including an Alabama state official, didn't help.
David Hall, a GOP county chair, told the Toronto Star that there was nothing inappropriate about a 30-year-old man dating a teenager.
And Alabama's state auditor confirmed some people's stereotypes about Cotton State values when he dismissed concerns about Roy Moore's alleged sexual encounter by pointing to the Holy Family to justify it:
“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler told the Washington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
“Saturday Night Live” — a show that has made a habit of mocking conservatives for being unsophisticated over the past year — took jabs at these stereotypes. The Fix's Aaron Blake wrote about it:
“Voters in Alabama will never elect someone who's had relations with a minor,” the Vice President Pence character says.
“You sure about that?” asks SNL's Roy Moore, dressed in a leather vest and cowboy hat.
“No,” Pence admits.
It may be easy for some to believe the worst about Alabamians — especially given the imagery of Moore, a gun-toting, cowboy-hat-wearing conservative Christian who rode a horse to the polls. But embracing caricatures of the state fail to take into consideration a couple of things.
One is that Alabama's left has been very active — and effective — this year.
- Randall Woodfin, a black millennial, last month became the youngest person elected Birmingham mayor, with the endorsement of former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
- The state's LGBT community was at the forefront of challenging Moore's conservative politics years before the former judge hit the national stage.
- About 5,000 women marched through Birmingham's historic civil rights district advocating women's rights this past January in a sister march to the Women's March on Washington.
And two: The problem of powerful men being sexually involved with underage women is not a uniquely conservative, small-town issue. Men in liberal, urban cities have behaved similarly.
- Former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, was sentenced to 21 months in prison in September after pleading guilty to transferring obscene material to a 15-year-old girl.
- Former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey, a Democrat who launched an unsuccessful bid for Richmond mayor in 2016, was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He eventually married the woman who prosecutors said he was having sex with when she was a 17-year-old receptionist at his law firm.
- Former U.S. congressman Mel Reynolds, a Chicago Democrat, was indicted and convicted on a charge of having sex with a teenage campaign worker.
Viewing these allegations solely through the lens of identity groups is what is leading many Moore supporters to stick by his side. The possibility of a Democrat winning next month's election is worse to some GOP leaders than electing a man who may have assaulted a minor. But the idea that this behavior is an issue unique to those outside one's tribe can ultimately keep people from addressing issues of sexual assault in their own communities.
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of child sexual abuse.
The fact is that the sexual abuse of minors knows no political, geographic or ideological boundaries. Keeping men's hands off minors will require lots of people working together — from both sides of the political aisle.