Hillary Clinton set the internet ablaze on Sunday when she told CBS’s “Sunday Morning” that the affair between her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky was not an abuse of power.
The former secretary of state’s remark ― as well as her suggestion that her husband’s sexual relationship with Lewinsky was consensual because Lewinsky had been “an adult” at the time ― appeared at odds with the Me Too movement Clinton herself has championed.
Lewinsky, who was 22 at the time of the affair, previously said that her sexual encounters with Bill Clinton had been consensual, but has reconsidered that view recently. Several other women have accused the former president of sexual misconduct going as far back as the 1970s, which he has vehemently denied.
But six major women’s advocacy groups ― EMILY’s List, National Organization for Women, Time’s Up, Planned Parenthood, Ultraviolet and Feminist Majority ― have been noticeably silent on Clinton’s controversial remarks.
EMILY’s List, National Organization for Women, Time’s Up, Planned Parenthood, Ultraviolet and Feminist Majority had not tweeted or issued statements about the interview as of Wednesday morning. None of the groups immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment, except for NOW, which declined to comment.
Neither Tarana Burke, who started the Me Too campaign in 2007, nor Alyssa Milano, an actress and prominent women’s rights activist who helped the campaign go viral a year ago, have responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment on Hillary Clinton’s interview.
“When I think about the things Hillary Clinton said about the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton affair not being an abuse of power — that is just tragic and it’s wrong,” Burke said.
“You’re talking about an age dynamic but you’re also talking about the president of the United States,” she added. “The amount of power, the amount of accumulated power that is in that position alone, versus an intern.”
Hillary Clinton should not be held responsible for her husband’s actions. But critics say the way she chooses to respond to the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him warrants scrutiny.
Although the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee noted that Lewinsky was an adult, the potential for sexual abuse and harassment exists even if someone is over the age of 18, said Laura Palumbo, director of communications for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
It’s “very understandable” why some believe it’s impossible for someone in a position of “unmatched” power, i.e. the president of the United States, to have a consensual relationship with an intern, Palumbo said.
“Power imbalance always impacts somebody’s ability to consent,” she added.
Palumbo said Hillary Clinton’s comments to CBS about Lewinsky’s age and her denial that the affair was an abuse of power were “problematic” in nature.
“In the context of Me Too and all of the ways we have seen the public dialogue around sexual harassment, abuse and assault moving forward, it is always a challenge when there are counter-messages that are potentially silencing for victims of sexual assault and also sending misinformation,” Palumbo said.
At least two women have claimed they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton, including Juanita Broadderick, who has alleged he raped her in a hotel room in 1978 when he was Arkansas attorney general.
When the wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein dominated the news just over a year ago, Hillary Clinton declared that “this behavior cannot be tolerated anywhere, whether it is in entertainment or politics.”
“I really commend the women who have been willing to come forward and tell their stories,” she said at the time. “There has to be a recognition that we must stand against this kind of action, which is so sexist and misogynistic.”
But Clinton was quick in her interview with CBS to steer the conversation away from her husband and toward the numerous women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault.
“Let me ask you this, where’s the investigation of the current incumbent against whom numerous allegations have been made and which he dismisses, denies and ridicules?” she asked. “So there was an investigation and it, as I believe, came out in the right place.”
On Monday, women worldwide, including some of the women’s groups mentioned above, posted tributes on social media to mark a year since the #MeToo hashtag went viral and prompted a massive reckoning on sexual violence and inequality in the workplace and beyond.
But some are left wondering to what extent ― if at all ― the movement changed the mindset of one of America’s most high-profile feminists.
This story has been updated with additional information about Tarana Burke and EMILY’s List.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.