Tara Reade's rape allegation against Joe Biden must be taken seriously. New details suggest it just isn't credible

Tara Reade's rape allegation against Joe Biden must be taken seriously. New details suggest it just isn't credible
Tara Reade, Joe Biden. Screenshot courtesy of Democracy Now!

Tara Reade's claim that former Vice President Joe Biden raped her in 1993 is difficult for the left in large part because her original claim--that he rubbed her shoulders, made her uncomfortable and that his staff then retaliated against her for complaining about it--is credible. She told multiple people at the time that something unpleasant had occurred between her and the then-Senator, her story is consistent with what other women have said about Biden and anyone who was around back then knows that the kind of pushback she described experiencing in her 2019 column detailing her original charge was common. (In that piece, Reade primarily blamed Biden's staff for pushing her out of the job and wrote, "I do not even know if [Biden] realized why I left [his staff].")


Those of us who argued during the primaries that Biden's long history of being inappropriately handsy with women might hurt his candidacy if he became the nominee don't want to be accused of reflexively defending him now. And of course the #MeToo movement and the relatively recent fight over Brett Kavanaugh's nomination further complicate the issue for obvious reasons.

And sadly, many of the current arguments discrediting Reade are reminiscent of those deployed to undermine Christine Blasey Ford when she came forward about Kavanaugh.

Some have focused on inconsistencies in Reade's account, but as many experts noted during the Kavanaugh hearings, victims of assault often have hazy memories of the details surrounding the event but have a clear recollection of the assault itself. That Reade praised Russia and Vladimir Putin is immaterial; many people on the left hold contrarian views of Russia and aren't Russian operatives. It is reasonable to be suspicious of Reade's apparently timing her allegation to inflict maximum damage on Biden's campaign, but that isn't dispositive as it would make sense for a person who had been assaulted by a politician to want to hurt his or her presidential aspirations. Some have asked why she didn't come forward when Biden was Vice President, or during his 2008 campaign for the White House, but of course the MeToo movement led many women who hadn't spoken out about their painful experiences for years to break their silence.

But having reserved judgment and taken the time to digest all of the publicly available information about this allegation, I believe that Biden behaved inappropriately toward Reade but I don't think her rape charge is at all credible. There are two interrelated reasons why.

First, Reade says Biden attacked her in the basement of a Senate office building. One shouldn't picture this particular "basement" as a dark, deserted space. The Senate subway, a small electric "people mover," connects the lower levels of the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings to the Capitol. There are parallel walkways. It's a high-traffic area that's patrolled by Capitol police.

Reade says Biden accosted her “in a semiprivate area like an alcove,” but PBS Newshour reported that while "Reade’s description aligns with other staffers’ recollections of Biden’s short indoor route between his office and the Capitol," that "subway tunnel contains no out-of-view areas, like an alcove. The remaining portion of the route includes multiple stairwells as well as corridors lined with offices. It is a main thoroughfare for senators and staffers."

Some former staffers told the NewsHour that if Biden did assault Reade in any of these places, it would have been a brazen attack in an area with a high risk of being seen.

“When I worked in the Senate, it was always crowded [and] packed with lobbyists, staff and tourists,” said Sheila Nix, who was Biden’s chief of staff on the 2012 presidential campaign and previously worked as chief of staff to two other Democratic senators.

According to data compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults occur in a private space--most in the home of the victim or an acquaintance of the victim--or in a public park or parking garage or other location where the likelihood of being detected is low. There's a reason why 'rapists are cowards' has come to be a cliché.

That fact alone isn't determinative because a small share of assaults do occur in public spaces. That's where the second factor comes in. Intuitively, one would think that the kind of perpetrator who would commit such a brazen crime, with such a high risk of exposure, is likely to have poor impulse control and would probably have a history of other crimes. The data show that a majority of those convicted for sexual assault are repeat offenders.

That no other woman has made an allegation remotely similar to Reade's rape charge has always been a problem for those who are convinced that Biden is a sexual predator. PBS Newshour interviewed 74 former Biden staffers for its report, 62 of them women, and not one of them "said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade." The Capitol is a small place with a very active gossip network, and the fact that there weren't even rumors about Biden behaving the way Reade alleges after 40 years roaming its halls is pretty compelling.

Since charges of hypocrisy are common with this story, I'd just note that Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Brett Kavanaugh pushed her into an upstairs bedroom inside a private home without any adults present before assaulting her. Unlike the Reade situation, other women also made allegations against the Associate Justice that weren't identical to Blasey Ford's but were certainly consistent with someone who would perpetuate such an assault.

People should take Tara Reade's allegation seriously. If Reade had alleged that Biden had attacked her in his office or in a hotel room or some other private space, I would have to remain agnostic. There's no indication that the two were ever in a room alone together. She claims that a Senator who has never faced so much as a rumor of sexual assault raped her in a high-traffic area where the likelihood of being caught was quite high. She says it happened in a semi-private alcove but when reporters walked that route they found that no such spaces exist.

When you take her charge seriously, on its own terms and without speculating as to Reade's mindset or potential motive, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

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