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It’s not clear if Jeff Sessions thinks grabbing a woman by the crotch is sexual assault


President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general of the United States. The Internet quickly recalled the time Sessions, 69, told a reporter he wasn’t sure if unwanted crotch-grabbing qualified as sexual assault:

After the Washington Post published a 2005 tape showing Trump bragging about grabbing women’s crotches without permission, Sessions, a prominent Trump surrogate throughout the campaign, came to the Republican’s defense, according to the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard. (His office did not return the Post's requests for comment.)

"This was very improper language, and he's acknowledged that," Sessions said last month in St. Louis, according to the magazine.

The reporter pressed him. "But beyond the language, would you characterize the behavior described in that as sexual assault if that behavior actually took place?"

"I don't characterize that as sexual assault,” Session replied. 

"So if you grab a woman by the genitals,” the reporter said, “that's not sexual assault?"

"I don't know. It's not clear that he — how that would occur," Sessions said.

After the Weekly Standard story ran, Sessions released a statement asserting the reporter had misrepresented his feelings on the matter.

"The Weekly Standard’s characterization of comments I made following Sunday’s Presidential debate is completely inaccurate,” Sessions wrote. “My hesitation was based solely on confusion of the contents of the 2005 tape and the hypothetical posed by the reporter, which was asked in a chaotic post-debate environment. I regret that it resulted in an inaccurate article that misrepresented my views. Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable. I would never intentionally suggest otherwise‎."

Sessions did not clarify whether the exact type of behavior that Trump said he committed — grabbing a woman by the genitals — constitued assault.

His comments prompted furor from Democrats, who said Trump had described criminal behavior in the eleven-year-old footage. The Justice Department, which Sessions may soon lead, defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

“It would be very disappointing if the leadership within the Department of Justice had a perspective on sexual violence that sets the movement back,” said Bridgette Stumpf, co-executive director of Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. “Sexual assault is a broad umbrella term that captures many aspects of sexual violence. There is no question that touching someone's genital area, man or women, without their consent, is sexual assault by contact.”

More on Wonkblog:

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