On Thursday, it was Sen. Al Franken's turn to be accused of sexual impropriety. Model and radio personality Leeann Tweeden came forward to say that the former comedian sexually assaulted her twice (that she knows of) on a USO tour in 2006 and appeared to have thought it funny enough to snap a picture of it while she slept. That's beyond gross.
In 2006, Tweeden was on her ninth USO tour in the Middle East, and the headliner of that trip was pre-senator Franken (ugh). He had written a sketch for them which, of course, involved a kiss — something Tweeden was very reluctant to do. She shared what happened behind the scenes with KABC Radio:
"I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd." He kept insisting they rehearse the kiss, and she kept resisting. "He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable," she said, but she agreed to get him to stop "badgering" her.
"We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth. I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time. I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated."
Tweeden says that nobody saw what happened and she didn't tell anyone in authority (she did tell others on the tour) because she didn't want to cause problems and when they performed the sketch, she turned her head away so his mouth wouldn't get near her. When she avoided Franken for the rest of the tour, he retaliated, Tweeden said, "[Repaying] me with petty insults, including drawing devil horns on at least one of the headshots I was autographing for the troops." When they got on the C-17 cargo plane for the 36-hour flight home, she thought the worst was behind her. It wasn't.
"I immediately fell asleep, even though I was still wearing my flak vest and Kevlar helmet," she said, and had no idea anything happened until she received a CD of photos from the photographer and saw this one:
Franken apparently thought it was so funny to grope a sleeping woman -- that it was so acceptable -- that he posed for a photographer while doing it (note: can we also talk about why the photographer thought it was ok to take a photo of this moment instead of stopping it?). Tweeden was horrified when she came across the picture.
"I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny? I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture."
As women have been coming forward with their stories of being sexually assaulted, Tweeden realized she had to tell hers, too:
"I had locked up those memories of helplessness and violation for a long time, but they all came rushing back to me and my hands clinched into fists like it was yesterday. I’m still angry at what Al Franken did to me. Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour. I am angry that I didn’t call him out in front of everyone when I had the microphone in my hand every night after that. I wanted to. But I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was there to entertain the troops and make sure they forgot about where they were for a few hours. Someday, I thought to myself, I would tell my story.
"That day is now."
Just like she was empowered by the women who have come forward to share their stories, Tweeden hopes that by sharing hers, other women will realize they don't need to feel shame for anything that has happened to them.
Al Franken, on the other hand? He should be as disgusted with himself as the rest of us are. It's time for him to go down like anyone else exposed for sexual assault.