Fox News is Trying to Victim-Blame Its Way Out of New Sexual Assault Allegations

Former Fox News guest correspondent Scottie Nell Hughes filed a lawsuit against the network last week after it was reported that the network would not pursue further investigations into her sexual assault allegations against network commentator Charles Payne.

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Hughes is a political contributor and blogger who accrued notoriety for her appearances as a guest commentator on the network between 2013 and 2016. She claims that Payne forcibly raped her in early 2013 and then coerced her into engaging in a prolonged affair with the incentive that such a relationship would result in her employment as a paid contributor with Fox News. Payne’s promises never came to fruition, however, and Hughes elected to terminate the affair in early 2015, reporting their involvement to Fox News.

Upon inquiring as to why her appearances on the network as a political pundit had dramatically decreased, Hughes was allegedly told by a representative of the network that she had been blacklisted for engaging in a romantic relationship with a colleague. According to Hughes, she then made several attempts to inform network executives of the assault. Fox responded to her claims by allegedly leaking news of the affair to the National Enquirer in an effort to defame Hughes’s character. In filing charges against both Payne and Fox News, Hughes states that in addition to the initial physical assault, she was “raped again” by the network.

It’s evident that the work culture at Fox News is one in which women are objectified, abused and silenced. The lawsuit comes on the heels of a slew of other allegations of sexual misconduct against major players at Fox, including former titan Bill O’Reilly and network founder Roger Ailes. (O’Reilly is no longer with the network following decades of sexual harassment allegations against him, and Ailes parted ways with the organization before his death after a class-action sexual harassment lawsuit against him was launched by Gretchen Carlson.) Most recently, the network parted ways with host and contributor Eric Bolling after allegations that he sent illicit photographs of his genitals to female coworkers and a subsequent investigation.

Representatives of Payne are vehemently refuting Hughes’ claims, bolstering their case with victim-blaming. Fox News called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.” Payne’s allies argue that, had the assault actually occurred, Hughes would have reported Payne years prior. This statement may do well to elicit sympathy for Payne—but it also belies the ways in which rape culture and patriarchy leave survivors with little recourse in their pursuits of justice.

Payne, 57, has been a major contributor to Fox News since its inception in October of 2007. He hosts his own program on the network and is frequently featured as a guest commentator on a number of other high-profile programs within it. His influence in the political sphere, and the veneration bequeathed upon him, is undeniable. Hughes must have known that levying charges against Payne would likely result in harsh retaliation by colleagues and viewers—because standing up to an aggressor who is a man of influence often does. One doesn’t have to look much further than Fox News for proof: It took decades of allegations of harassment to finally oust Bill O’Reilly, and even then, he was provided a large settlement and the opportunity to maintain his public profile by a willing public; Ailes stepped down with similar financial support from the network while many of the women involved in his case went elsewhere to continue their careers. Beyond Fox, the rape charges against Bill Cosby—raised, in some cases, decades after the act—and his subsequent legal victory are stark reminders that the public infamy, isolation and alienation that characteristically accompany high-profile assault cases foster reluctance on the part of victims to speak out.

Assault is a traumatic, often life-altering event, and prosecution requires a victim to recount the experience innumerable times throughout the legal process. In addition, a common sentiment amongst victims is the fear of re-victimization if their rapist is acquitted, and statistical data suggests that this fear is well founded. Only 9 percent of defendants in rape cases are convicted, with a mere 3 percent of these convictions ever resulting in jail time. These numbers are disheartening to victims of assault, denigrating their faith in the justice system to protect them and adequately respond to charges. This faith is depleted even more when the perpetrator of the assault is a highly venerated commentator, with a powerful network to back him.

To dismiss Hughes’s claims as mere acts of fame hoarding is an egregious offense to all rape and assault survivors. The epidemic of sexual assault—and the real challenges survivors face coming forward—are not cries for attention. They are calls to action.

Sarah Alexander is a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge. In addition to being a writer, she is a visual and performing artist, and attempts to use film, music and online platforms to spark conversation about social activism. She is an anomalous LA native, which affects her personality in a plethora of unique ways.

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