Cain scandal: Do Sharon Bialek's allegations amount to sexual assault?

Herman Cain's fourth accuser goes public with an explicitly detailed story that arguably goes well beyond a charge of sexual harassment

Sharon Bialek's allegations that, in 1997, Herman Cain put his hand up her skirt and pulled her head toward his crotch, may go beyond sexual harassment and qualify as sexual assault.
(Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

GOP presidential frontrunner Herman Cain will hold a news conference in Arizona at 5 p.m. EST today, and is vowing to confront the latest explosive sexual allegations against him "head on." Cain insists Sharon Bialek's claim that he put his hand up her skirt and pushed her head toward his crotch 14 years ago is "totally fabricated." The Republican has already taken a hit in the polls in the week since other years-old sexual harassment complaints from three additional women resurfaced, although he still has strong support from Republicans. But political experts say Bialek's story could be the most damaging yet, because she's accusing Cain of unwanted physical contact, not just inappropriate comments. Is Bialek accusing Cain of harassment, or sexual assault?

Bialek's allegations clearly amount to sexual assault: "Make no mistake," says Ana Marie Cox in Britain's Guardian. "The actions Sharon Bialek described" fit the definition of sexual assault. Sexual harassment may be a "fuzzy concept" to some people. But what constitutes sexual assault is crystal clear: It's any unwanted sexual contact, and "pushing someone's head to your crotch" certainly qualifies.

"Sharon Bialek breaks the code of D.C. Confidential"

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This isn't sexual assault — and it wasn't harassment either: Even Bialek says Cain "stopped when she said to stop," says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. This wasn't assault, because Cain never touched her sexually. He only tried, and when rebuffed, he stopped. And this wasn't harassment, either, because Bialek didn't work for the National Restaurant Association, which Cain then led. She was simply asking Cain for help finding a new job. So what was this episode? Just an "alleged attempt at infidelity."

"Cain '4th accuser' press conference"

Regardless, this is devastating for Cain: No matter what you call it, this is a disaster for the GOP hopeful, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. Bialek's accusations go beyond the others, and her celebrity lawyer, Gloria Allred, has declarations from two people confirming her story hasn't changed in 14 years. This is becoming "a distasteful, tawdry circus" that is submerging Cain's campaign. Instead of telling people why he should be president, Cain has his hands full just convincing voters that he's not "a pig."

"A new and serious allegation against Herman Cain"

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