by Norma Buster
Less than 24 hours after Aaron Coleman decided to re-enter the race for state representative in KS-37, articles broke out with allegations of violent physical abuse from Coleman’s ex-girlfriend – the abuse occurring as recently as January 2020. Coleman made national news this month after winning the Democratic primary despite Coleman’s admitted history of committing revenge porn, sextortion, and extreme harassment in middle school, just 5-7 years ago. Last week, The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald published a profile on Coleman, asking “whether adults should be judged by the actions they undertook when they were a child, particularly when they have apologized and expressed remorse.”
We say yes, adults running for office should be judged for adolescent harms especially when the behavior continues into adulthood. The voting public can themselves decide whether the apologies and remorse absolve the person, or as here, are completely hollow in light of an ongoing pattern of abuse well into adulthood.
That Coleman has been outed for his continuous abusive behavior as an adult comes as no surprise to us—he’s just like so many of the offenders our clients deal with. Our founding attorney describes some of the terms we use in the Carrie Goldberg Offender Taxonomy in Nobody’s Victim: psychos, pervs, trolls, and assholes. And Coleman is a prime example of what we deem an a$$hole, someone who exploits or mistreats victims out of willful ignorance or arrogance for their own financial gain. Coleman is a special kind of asshole seeking political power: The Reformed Abuser.
With the help of journalists like Greenwald, Coleman has attempted to explain away his behavior by discussing a traumatic upbringing, growing up in a broken home with a disabled parent. In every official statement I could find from Coleman “expressing remorse” for his actions, he brings up his impoverished background. In a recent Twitter post explaining his decision to stay in the race, Coleman writes:
We NEED to focus on the fact that there is hopelessness amongst our young citizens, especially us men. And this is not a justification for my actions but the reason I must do everything in my power to lead by example. I have the opportunity to stop others from meeting my fate and I will not sit by and let the shame and remorse I feel, stop me from ACTUALLY making a difference.
It’s both ironic and laughable that Coleman says he won’t let shame stop him in an attempt to heroize himself – when the crimes he initially admitted to committing are ones that are explicitly meant to shame the victim. Victims of nonconsensual porn are often publicly humiliated, fired or pushed to resign, and face lasting psychological effects, including depression, PTSD, and more. It’s even worse for children who often drop out of behavior, cope using self-harm and high risk behavior and in our experience, almost always report feeling suicidal. Coleman’s victims have spoken out about the re-traumatization of seeing their abuser work his way up to hold a position of power.
The idea that Coleman can twist his criminal behavior to construct this narrative of a Reformed Abuser coming from a traumatic childhood, in itself shows Coleman’s privilege. Greenwald asks in his profile, “If we say we want more candidates from working-class and impoverished families running for political office – as we should – do we make allowances for the fact that deprived childhoods often produce aberrant behavior as a child that are not common among those from more privileged backgrounds?”
Maybe this question wouldn’t come across as completely disingenuous if we lived in a world where women and people of color could pursue public positions of power without their entire lives being intensely scrutinized. Our client Katie Hill writes about the double-standard at work here, after she resigned from Congress following becoming the victim of revenge porn. And look at what happens when people of color from working-class backgrounds enter the political arena: the same birther-bullsh*t that the Trump campaign promoted to discredit former President Barack Obama has already begun with Democratic VP Nominee Kamala Harris.
Coleman’s approach – backed up by Greenwald and other supporters – contributes to the criminalization of poverty, which primarily people of color are impacted by. As the Institute for Policy Studies puts it:
Criminalization of poverty has increased significantly in the U.S. since the Great Recession of 2009. Poor and low-income people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being targeted, profiled, fined, arrested, harassed, violated and incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping on a park can all result in jail time.
Like many of the a$$hole offenders we deal with, Coleman has been privileged enough to get away with his crimes—which have life-lasting effects on victims–and to use them and control the narrative to gain political power.
All of this was clear before the news broke out this that Coleman had physically attacked his ex-girlfriend this year. No sh*t: someone who has consistently openly displayed patterns of abuse is still an abuser. The story surrounding Aaron Coleman was never centered on whether adults should be held responsible for their actions as children – it is an opportunity to stop an admitted abuser from rising to power.