- TV host Leeann Tweeden said in an interview Thursday that it was hard to come forward with her allegations that Sen. Al Franken sexually harassed her in 2006.
- Tweeden accused Franken on Tuesday of kissing her and groping her without her consent in 2006.
- Tweeden said that she hopes to inspire other victims of sexual misconduct to come forward.
In an emotional interview on CNN on Thursday afternoon, Los Angeles TV and radio host Leeann Tweeden said that coming forward with her allegation that Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped her without her consent was painful, but necessary in order to help “change the culture.”
“I’ve been angry about it, Jake, for over 10 years,” Tweeden told CNN’s Jake Tapper of the alleged assault. “To this day I talk about it and my hand clenches into a fist.”
Tweeden wrote in a 790 KABC column that Franken kissed and groped her without consent in 2006, when the pair were on tour abroad performing for military service members. She alleged that Franken aggressively kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth during a rehearsal for a comedy skit.
On their flight back to the US, Franken was photographed grabbing at Tweeden’s breasts while she was asleep — an act Tweeden discovered afterwards when she saw the photo.
Tweeden said she hopes that her allegations will encourage others to come forward with their own experiences — and set an example for children.
“You want to set examples and you want the world to be better for your kids. You want to leave it better than what you had it,” she said, adding that she might be doing so by speaking out.
“I don’t want anything, I didn’t come out for it to destroy anybody. I came out because if he did this to somebody else or if somebody else has been sexually assaulted or if they have been abused in any way, that maybe somebody else can come out in real time because they find strength in numbers.”
Tweeden added that societal norms around sexual misconduct and abuse will only change when perpetrators — even unknowing ones — recognise and change their behaviour.
“I think it’s going to come from people who maybe do the abusing that don’t even realise they’re doing the abusing because it’s so a part of the culture,” she said.
She said that it was hard to make her experience with Franken public and that there will still be those who lay the blame for her victimization on her.
“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating, there are still people — I’ve looked on Twitter — who are still blaming me for it … that’s why women don’t come out.”
Tweeden says she is not asking for Franken to resign from the Senate, but said at a news conference earlier on Thursday that her opinion might change if others also accuse Franken of misconduct. She repeated that she accepted Franken’s apology and believes that it was “honest” and “heartfelt.”
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Tweeden wrote in a blog post. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.”
Franken has issued two statements on the allegations since Tweeden’s column was published, apologizing to her but saying he remembered the incidents differently. He called for an ethics investigation into himself, saying he will “gladly cooperate.”
The spotlight on sexual misconduct turns to Capitol Hill
In recent weeks, several female lawmakers have spoken openly about harassment they faced from male lawmakers. On Monday, 1,500 former congressional aides signed an open letter calling for mandatory sexual harassment training for all lawmakers and staff and for a stronger system to handle allegations of abuse.
CNN reported earlier this week that female lawmakers, staffers, and interns have an informal word-of-mouth list — known as the “creep list” — of male lawmakers and staffers who are notorious for sexual misconduct.
On Tuesday, two congresswomen accused sitting male lawmakers of sexual harassment and misconduct during a House hearing on sexual harassment policy.
Last week, the Senate voted to require lawmakers and their aides to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training.
Michelle Mark contributed to this report.
Watch clips of the interview below: