So when 19-year-old Aaron Coleman was a tween he acquired a nude photo of a 13-year-old classmate. He threatened to share it around her family and friends if she didn’t give him more photos. She refused; he shared.
After Coleman won a Democratic primary for the Kansas House, this came to light, along with a stalking incident and him harassing a young woman to the point she attempted suicide. Coleman dropped out of the race, then changed his mind, complaining — as did some of his supporters — that given his strong progressive positions (Medicare for All!) feminists are insane to attack him. Do they want Republicans to win? How can we ever change the status quo if feminists eat their own like this?
Inevitably this has generated more support for Coleman from people showing “himpathy” and demanding (as LGM calls it) “dude process”: He was 13 and everyone knows 13 year olds have poor judgment. Is one foolish mistake going to hang over his head forever? Where is the path to redemption? He tried to apologize (his victims have blocked him on FB so he couldn’t reach them) and he admits his behavior was bad — doesn’t that count for something?
As Lindsay Beyerstein says, “his life is being ruined” is not the issue here. Losing the election or stepping down in the face of these revelations (nobody has demanded the party end his run for office) isn’t ruin, it’s just … not getting to hold elected office. And no, the fact he’s progressive doesn’t obligate feminists or anyone else to support him. Feminists went through this with Democratic Sen. Al Franken and New York AG Eric Schneiderman, both of whom lost their positions because of allegations of past harassment incidents (Schneiderman’s being far, far nastier). In both cases there were people who thought they were too valuable to the party — why not let this slide? I’m glad there was no sliding.
And I’m glad they called out Coleman. What he’s doing was not a case of “boys will be boys” — yes, teenagers do stupid, irresponsible things, but that’s not the case here. Coleman wasn’t sneaking into the girls’ locker room to get a peek (which is not good either, admittedly); what he did was vicious bullying and harassment. Coleman admits he was a “sick and troubled boy” and I don’t doubt that’s true, but it’s not a justification or an excuse, no more than admitting “I have a bad temper” excuses having a bad temper. With the dark times running 12 to 14, that’s a period just five years back. At least Brett Kavanaugh (who also got the Just Teenage Horseplay defense) was 20 years older than when he assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. Of course, both teenage boys and adults busted for rapes they just committed get the “you can’t ruin their life!” defense so I’m not sure time is relevant.
And it’s debatable whether Coleman has, in fact repented. He acknowledges he did some bad shit, which is good (and he really does acknowledge it, which a lot of these creeps don’t) … but then again, he also dismisses some of his harassing ways as “only digital,” as if that didn’t hurt. And his complaint about the circular firing squad is clearly saying criticizing his behavior is unreasonable. Plus his ex claims he choked her during an argument and that was just within the past year.
Contrary to some of the articles, I don’t think the victims have to forgive him for him to redeem himself; forgiveness and redemption are twinned but separate processes. I have no idea what redemption would look like (as I discuss here). But I don’t think Coleman’s redeemed himself yet, except by the standards of dude process.