The Sexist

What Does It Mean That Al Gore’s Accuser Saved Her Pants?

Of all the excuses offered to doubt the Portland masseuse who has accused Al Gore of sexually assaulting her in 2006, this is the saddest: She kept the pants.

When news of the woman's year-old accusations broke Wednesday—she first approached police about the incident in 2006, declined to continue with the investigation, then returned to provide a detailed statement in 2009—some commenters chastised the masseuse for not saving the pants she wore on the night of the incident, pants she claimed revealed "suspicious stains" from Gore. "She did not keep the pants, nor submit them to the police for testing," one Gawker commenter provided as reason to discredit her story.

But once the media got wind of the fact that the woman did, in fact, retain the pants—she keeps them locked in a bank safety deposit box—some used her evidence collection as an even stronger reason to doubt her claims.

On Double X, Hanna Rosin wrote: "The latest detail is that the woman saved the pants she was wearing that day (four years ago!), which apparently have some suspicious stains. Why were there 'suspicious stains' if she escaped from the room? Do 'suspicious stains' make for good DNA evidence four years after the fact?" But in a later post, Rosin backed down from her initial doubts: "this very long and detailed statement paints a picture of Al Gore that is so disturbing and so completely at odds with everything we know about him that it's hard to know what to think," she wrote. In an e-mail, Rosin explained, "I hadn't read the police report when I wrote the first post, just the news stories. Then I read the police report, and it's so long and specific that, even though it's only her side, it forces you to take the allegations seriously."

Retaining evidence of an alleged assault is not, in fact, a valid reason to cast doubt on the accusation. But for Bonnie Russell, the accuser's vigilance provided a rare opportunity to make some sexual assault jokes at the accuser's expense. "Personally. . . I can't imagine saving a dirty pair of pants for four years for the simple reason there would come a time after ignoring laundry chores for so long . . . I'd wind up tossing them in the wash and be done with it," she wrote for Salon. "That said, maybe laundry is part of her trauma.  Maybe she's too traumatized to do laundry. That I understand.  Doing laundry always traumatizes me."

Russell's harrowing experiences with housekeeping aside, few tasks are more unnerving than a victim's efforts to retain the last physical remains of his or her own assault. Keeping the pants isn't evidence of an accuser's weird obsession—it's a troubling sign of police apathy. Also in 2006, a Howard University student attended a college party where she says she was drugged, led to an upstairs bedroom, and sexually assaulted by a classmate. For days following the incident, the woman pleaded for area hospitals and the D.C. police department to collect evidence from her body and begin investigating her case. They refused.

Now, the woman still retains the underwear and T-shirt she was wearing on the night of the assault. They're wrapped in a plastic bag in her sister's closet, sitting there on the off-chance that police will finally open her case and investigate her claims. “I didn’t want her to wash them," the woman's sister said in a deposition. "Because we weren’t being helped."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • mc

    Thank you, great post--really illustrates the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitudes about SA vitcims.

    One thing though-- I would recommend not calling rape victims/survivors "accusers."

  • Ryan

    Man, even by today's standard of discourse, I didn't expect a "doing laundry is just like sexual assault, amirite?" joke. ???

  • Thomas MacAulay Millar

    You're right on the money here. Every story gets attacked. A narrative that is bizarre and has unexpected elements gets attacked as too wierd to be true, but if it's straight from a made-for-TV-movie it's "too perfect" and must be made up. If she freaks out and destroys evidence by showering or throwing out clothes, it must be untrue; if she keeps her wits and preserves evidence she's a schemer and must be making it up. If she's drunk or high she must not remember or asked for it or deserved it anyway; if not they why was she in the room with him and why didn't she try to get away sooner or more effectively?

    There is no right story. The apologists come out of the woodwork to attack any story. If they even attack Samantha Geimer, thirteen, coerced to take depressants and still said no, then there is no woman who can tell a story and just plain be believed. Not even Mother Theresa. Not even dead.

  • Northwesterner

    I think this is sad and horrible and suspect that the saving of the pants is the most damning evidence of all. why she refused to talk to police, we don't know, but she saved the pants in a safety deposit box and one likely wouldn't do that unless one needed to.

  • Kit-Kat

    @mc: what if you don't know whether the person really was a rape victim? In this case, Gore denies the allegations, the police dropped the case (citing lack of evidence), and the Portland Tribune declined to publish the story after their own independent investigation, including interviews with the alleged victim, were unable to satisfy themselves that the story was likely to be true (and they wanted to publish it--it would have been a big story). The woman might be telling the truth. Her allegations are certainly detailed and not implausible, but more investigation is going to be necessary to determine which side is telling the truth, especially given the amount of time that has passed. Right now the media is just reporting every detail or rumor that surfaces without really trying to verify anything or investigate. It will take some time for the dust to settle and cooler heads to sort out the information. The media will probably not provide those cooler heads, if past performance is any indication of future activity.

  • Kit-Kat

    That said, whether or not she saved the pants is really not the issue, and the whole fixation on it is irrelevant and silly. At least Rosin admitted she was hasty and irrational in her judgment.

  • Laura

    @mc: what if you don’t know whether the person really was a rape victim?

    "Alleged victim"?

  • Rick Mangus

    This is what I love about this column the HYPOCRISY of it's readers and blogging contributors, if this was Republican the negative comments would be up to around fifty, HYPOCRITES!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Not surprised

    He's a grown man, 2000 miles away from his wife. She's a masseuse (or at least that's what she claims to be), who shows up in his hotel room sometime after midnight, on business. Ask anyone from anywhere else in the world what you should expect to happen. Only in America do we play this foolish game of shock and surprise.

    In France, the mistress attends Mitterand's funeral. Here, we believe men are faithful.
    All men are dogs. Get over it, folks.

  • stranger.

    Joe Coscarelli
    June 25, 2010

    ● The woman who called Al Gore a "crazed sex poodle" is so scared and hurt that the only thing that will make her feel better is $1 million to tell her story. The horror!

  • Christina79

    My god, this is disgusting. I can't believe we almost elected a rapist to office. Why haven't I heard this before?

  • Rick Mangus

    'Not surprsed', we all know that you are a man hating BITCH! who has no social graces or is too ugly, too fat one thing we are sure of is by your hatred is that you are definitely STUPID!

  • kza

    That's racist, thin people can man hate too. I mean MAN HATE!!!

  • Blue Pen

    Not surprised. Is your comment addressed to the consumers of media? Or to the massage therapist? Like, SHE is the one who should have known better?

  • Not surprised

    Rick Magnus, get a life. You couldn't be more wrong. I'm actually a guy. One who has seen politicians of all parties and ideologies who - as Henry Kissinger once said - consider power to be the ultimate aphrodisiac.

    I don't hate men, being one of them. I don't hate politicians. I simply observed that most of them are idiots from the waist down....(with the exception of W, who was an idiot from the waist up).

    As far as all men being dogs, we are. Woof. It's amazing how many of us get a hard on and follow it into trouble.

    And, as the great philosopher Chris Rock once observed, a man's faithfulness varies inversely with his opportunities. As I get older, I guess I have become more faithful.

  • cp reader

    Let's keep some perspective. If Gore behaved in the way the therapist describes it was contemptible. But it's misleading to compare this to a rape. He didn't rape her. She says he grabbed her, groped her and tried to pin her down. But she pushed him away, distracted him with conversation, packed up her stuff and left the room. By her account, he even reached for his wallet and asked "What do I owe you?" as she headed for the door. Her clothes were never off, and she says she's not even sure exactly what the stain on her pants is. His behavior is plenty bad enough, if true. But he's not a rapist (at least by her testimony) and she's not a rape victim/survivor.

    link to the police report:

  • kza

    It's not rape it's a massage-misunderstanding.

  • J.

    Perhaps I'm misremembering, but I was under the impression that the police dropped the investigation after the massage therapist's attorney told police that they weren't interested in pursuing the matter criminally.

  • Amanda Hess

    J.: That's true of the first time she considered approaching police, in 2006. She went on to provide the detailed statement in 2009, after which the police declined to investigate.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Not surprised', "you couldn't be more wrong", it's Rick Mangus not Rick Magnus!

  • mc

    @kit-kat and @Laura
    let's just call her the woman who has reported being sexually assaulted... or just calling her the victim without the 'alleged' is fine too, considering how few SA reports are false... if it is proven with a thorough investigation to be a false report, she can get called out in the papers, but in the meantime, imo, let's keep the "accused" and "alleged" stuff for the perpetrator.

    @cp reader, point taken, she does not report being raped, she reported being sexually assaulted. corrected my language in this comment.