State Rep. Kaniela Ing, D–South Maui, made headlines across Hawaii on Friday, Mar. 9 when he sent out a few Tweets denouncing the naming of Honolulu International Airport after the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.
“In order for sexual violence to end, men need to know they can no longer get away with it. But when we name an airport after an accused serial rapist, we show them that they can,” said Ing, who is running for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District seat. Almost immediately, Ing came under fire from one Twitter user, who pointed out that Ing himself had voted a year ago to name the airport after Inouye.
“I told the reporter, I didn’t know at the time,” Ing responded on Twitter. “He was a hero of mine. When I heard the rape accusations from 9 women, I was stunned. Most millennials didn’t know, because the power structure buried it for decades.”
The denunciations came quickly. The Daniel K. Inouye Institute on Oahu immediately put out a statement, according to Hawaii News Now. “Senator Daniel K. Inouye passed away more than 5 years ago,” said the Institute statement. “It is incredibly mean spirited to accuse him of a crime when he is not here to defend himself. It is unfortunate that Mr. Ing would attempt to smear the Senator and his family’s name to attract attention to his congressional campaign. This is not conduct becoming of a member of Congress.”
But the thing is, Ing was correct. Inouye WAS an “accused serial rapist.” The charges date to 1992. Inouye denied it all when he was alive, of course (he died in 2012 at the age of 88), and the allegations never went to court. But they still pop up from time to time. In fact, Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett wrote about the allegations just a few months ago.
“In 1992, Inouyeʻs hairdresser, Lenore Kwock, alleged that the senator forced her to have sex with him and that he groped her in a hair salon after that. Inouye denied the allegations, as well as unsubstantiated claims that he had abused nine other women,” Fawcett wrote in her Nov. 28, 2017 column, titled “Would Dan Inouye Have Survived 1992 Sex Allegations Today?”
While it’s true that Inouye denied the allegations when he was alive, it’s also true that the political climate back in ‘92 was very different than today. The media was far more deferential to powerful men back then than it is today (even with the power of the #MeToo movement, life is still rough on women who accuse powerful men of sexual harassment and assault).
So what was the problem with Ing’s statements? The answer lies in Fawcett’s 2017 column. In it, she interviewed Annelle Amaral, a former state legislator who said she lost power because she had supported Kwock, Inouye’s preeminent accuser.
“Amaral believes if Inouye were alive today and was confronted with similar allegations of sexual harassment, his backers would be just as ready to be on his side,” Fawcett wrote. “‘I think Hawaii remains a closed shop politically,’ she said Saturday. ‘Inouye’s supporters would continue to protect him from possible censure. People would just shut up and say nothing.’”
Which is pretty much what’s happening today.