In the controversy concerning Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh at a house party in Maryland in the early 1980s, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono has been praised and pummeled for calling on “the men in this country” to “just shut up and step up” and to “do the right thing for a change.” To men who wonder whether Hirono’s harangue about 120 million adult males might be worded a bit too broadly, the senator asks, “Why are you offended by this?”

It is certainly true that many men must do better on the matter of sexual assault. Males commit the vast majority of sex offenses, and they routinely take the lead in denying and minimizing this pernicious problem. It also needs to be acknowledged that men are the prime beneficiaries of social and political systems that remain deeply paternalistic, and that allegations of serious sexual assault against a man nominated to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court deserve a fair hearing. In these respects, it is good to hear Hirono speak up.

But when it comes to preaching about doing “the right thing for a change,” it needs to be acknowledged that Hirono herself has finally found her voice — belatedly.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono implored her senatorial colleagues, and particularly the men, to “do the right thing.” Nick Grube/Civil Beat

In 1992, when Hirono was in her 12th year in the Hawaii House of Representatives, the New York Times published a 1,500-word article describing allegations of serial sexual assault by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye against Lenore Kwock, a local woman who worked as a hairdresser (“Accusations Against Hawaii Senator Meet a Silence in His Seat of Power” by Jane Gross). An opinion poll found that more than twice as many people believed Kwock than believed Inouye’s curious denials (the senator said “I am not suggesting she is lying” and “it could be a matter of imagination”).

After Kwock’s accusations were made public, Inouye went on to be reelected to the Senate four more times. When he died in 2012, the Times obituary hailed him as “Hawaii’s quiet voice of conscience in the Senate.” Last year, a Civil Beat article reported more troubling details about Inouye’s interactions with Kwock, the first of which apparently occurred when he was in his 50s and she was 22.

Hirono maintained a studied silence about the behavior of Hawaii’s most powerful politician.

After the Times story surfaced in 1992, some of Hirono’s colleagues in the Hawaii state Legislature criticized Inouye publicly. One, Democratic Rep. Annelle Amaral, a former police officer who had taught community classes on rape prevention and whose political career crashed after she publicly supported Kwock, noted that nine other women had given her accounts similar to those made by Kwock.

But Hirono (like many of her colleagues in the Legislature) maintained a studied silence about the behavior of Hawaii’s most powerful politician. As Jane Gross observed in her Times article, local leaders may have chosen silence because they feared that the Democratic party machine which Inouye led “might derail their careers or strip their projects of government money.”

In 1994 Hirono became lieutenant governor of Hawaii. In 2006 she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. And in 2012 she was elected to the U.S. Senate. But in the quarter-century since the accusations against Inouye were revealed, Hirono has remained remarkably mute. Her silence about inconvenient truths may help explain why she has had a long career in the political limelight, but it contradicts her claim that she has been a “fighter” all her life. The facts are more complicated and less flattering.

After nearly four decades in politics, it seems a little late for Hirono to be posing as a champion for victims’ rights. It also seems more than a little partisan for her to care so much about Christine Blasey Ford and so little about Lenore Kwock.

But better late than never. I commend Hirono for speaking up in the present, and I encourage her to continue pushing for gender justice after this news cycle ends. If she really is committed to this cause (and not just to her own interests and those of her party), she could even explain why she was missing in action when it really mattered in her home state.

And if it is not too late for Hirono to “do the right thing for a change,” might there be hope for others as well?

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