It doesn‘t have to be assault to be bad, Morgan Freeman

Recently, celebrities accused of sexual misconduct have started to issue a new kind of defense: at least they didn‘t commit sexual assault.

Morgan Freeman adopted that reasoning for his second apology this weekend, accused him of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior, according to a CNN investigation. Freeman has additionally bemoaned the effect the allegations would have on his “80 year career.”

“All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them. But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor,” in his statement. 

“I admit that I am someone who feels a need to try to make women—and men—feel appreciated and at ease around me. As part of that, I would often try to joke with and compliment women, in what I thought was a light-hearted and humorous way. Clearly I was not always coming across the way I intended. And that is why I apologized Thursday and will continue to apologize to anyone I might have upset, however unintentionally.”

He :

“But I also want to be clear: I did not create unsafe work environments. I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex. Any suggestion that I did so is completely false.”

The allegations against Freeman include a woman who claimed that he continuously tried to lift up her skirt to see if she was wearing underwear. The woman alleges that Freeman regularly touched her without her consent and made inappropriate comments about her body. 

Other women had similar stories to share, with one claiming: “We knew that if he was coming by … not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms.”

So far, none of the publicly made allegations described meets the criteria for sexual assault. Still, I‘m not sure why Freeman chose to then minimize what he did and reframe the allegations as an attack on himself: “I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday‘s media reports.”

Maybe it‘s because the “At least I‘m not Harvey Weinstein” defense has been used before, both by people accused of assault and by their defenders. 

used such a defense after several women accused him of sexual harassment, including “frankly sexual appeals” and insisting that one model take her clothes off for a shoot. 

“Last time I looked, discomfort was not a major offense,” Close said . “I never reduced anyone to tears, no one ever ran out of the place. If I embarrassed anyone or made them feel uncomfortable, I am truly sorry; I didn’t mean to. I acknowledge having a dirty mouth, but we’re all adults.”

, People Magazine revealed that Danny Masterson was allegedly under investigation for three separate incidents of rape. His response:

“Law enforcement investigated these claims more than 15 years ago and determined them to be without merit. I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.”

Masterson‘s defense — that because he wasn‘t accused of a crime, he was free of wrongdoing, echoes others defenses that have been made.

Sexual misconduct, assault, and harassment are different terms with vastly different legal implications. Misconduct is not a legal term and is the broadest of the three, referring to a range of inappropriate sexual behavior, not all of it illegal. Sexual assault requires a level of physical touching that sexual harassment does not, though it does not have to include penetration.

Nuances matter. It‘s still uncomfortable to place any of this behavior on a spectrum of “just bad” to “outright evil.” And it‘s nonetheless critical not to minimize the less severe accusations like the ones Freeman has been accused of, or use them as some kind of “whataboutism” defense.

Since the allegations first broke, Freeman has been suspended from a Visa ad campaign and may even lose his Lifetime Achievement Award from SAG.

. Just imagine what the women he allegedly hurt also suffered — and how little we‘ll ever know about it.