VAN BUREN, Arkansas — Juanita Broaddrick joined Twitter in 2009. The 73-year-old retired nursing home operator from Van Buren, Arkansas, tweeted a few times about the weather, Weight Watchers, and drinking coffee on her porch, then abandoned the service until fall 2015, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made a series of statements that enraged her.
In September, Clinton tweeted that every sexual assault survivor had “the right to be believed.” In November, she reiterated that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.” The following month, she was asked at a campaign event whether the handful of women who’ve accused her husband, former President Bill Clinton, of sexual harassment and assault — Juanita Broaddrick included — deserved to be “believed” as well.
“Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” Clinton replied with a smile that was just one awkward beat too slow.
Broaddrick oozes genuine, sweet-as-sweet-tea Southern hospitality, but she went “ballistic” when she heard Clinton’s statements on sexual assault, she recently told me. It had been years since Broaddrick had spoken publicly about the Clintons. Sitting at home, alone and fuming, Broaddrick thought to herself, What can I say to make this believable to people, that this really happened to me? She signed back in to her dormant Twitter and started typing. In January, one tweet went viral: “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General raped me and Hillary tried to silence me. I am now 73….it never goes away.”
Broaddrick claims Bill Clinton raped her in 1978, when he was Arkansas’ attorney general, during what she thought would be a morning business meeting. As with many rape allegations, there is no way to definitively prove what happened, especially since Broaddrick didn’t speak out for decades. Through a lawyer in 1999, Bill Clinton denied assaulting Broaddrick and has never been charged. (A spokesperson declined to comment further to BuzzFeed News.) But contrary to what Hillary Clinton alluded to last fall, there is no concrete “evidence” that discredits Broaddrick’s rape claims. Her allegations have long been an inconvenience for Democrats — and an extremely convenient cause for Republicans to champion.
“Women know that this is an unfair attack on Hillary, and that's why it continues to exist in this small corner of the right-wing media world.”
The current ’90s nostalgia isn’t all Friends reruns, chokers, and Pokémon. We’re also relitigating the decade and reconsidering scandals with 21st-century hindsight. Our understanding of sexual misconduct has evolved, thanks to the record number of women who are speaking out about it. From college campuses to the military and the workplace, sexual assault survivors are are forcing rapists, and the institutions that protect them, to be held accountable. They're also dispelling pervasive myths about who “perfect” rape victims are and how they should behave.
Looking back, it seems that O.J. Simpson got away with not just murder, but also domestic violence. The sexual harassment allegations Anita Hill made about Judge Clarence Thomas would likely derail a Supreme Court nomination today — and the accuser wouldn’t be brushed aside as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” In the ’90s, the media called Monica Lewinsky a “tramp”; now, she’s a celebrated anti-bullying spokeswoman. Bill Cosby is no longer “America’s Dad” but a “probable sexual predator.”
Juanita Broaddrick seems primed for the same modern reassessment. But the political implications of her claims are too disastrous for liberal politicians and pundits — the people who typically support self-declared rape survivors — to rally around her, especially this close to election day. That means only Clinton-hating conservatives are visibly incensed by her claims, and the more that they amplify Broaddrick’s story, the more skeptical progressives become.
“Women know that this is an unfair attack on Hillary, and that's why it continues to exist in this small corner of the right-wing media world,” said Marcy Stech, vice president of communications at the political action committee Emily's List.
Broaddrick has repeatedly said that she’s not politically motivated. She insists she has no plans to join Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign and says she’s only voting for him because she doesn’t want the man she claims raped her — and the woman she believes enabled him — back in the White House. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008 for the same reason, she said.
“For somebody to choose to make me valid…that’s nice.”
But even if Broaddrick doesn’t want to admit it, she’s become increasingly cozy with conservatives as election day draws nearer. She used to tweet mostly about her own story and other sexual assault–related issues; these days, her feeds are filled with outlandish Clinton conspiracy theories and angry posts about Benghazi. She may have once donated more than $1,000 to Obama, but now she retweets criticism about him and his wife.
Broaddrick’s move to the right damages her mainstream credibility. Liberals may not want to call her a liar, but they don’t understand why she has to back Trump, either, especially since his party has been mostly absent from — if not antagonistic toward — the ongoing national conversation on sexual violence. But the progressives who started that conversation aren’t eager to include Broaddrick in it. The right-wingers may have an agenda, but at least they tell Broaddrick they believe her. That’s all she’s ever wanted.
“People saying that they’re sorry is very respectful,” Broaddrick told me, “but when somebody says, ‘I believe you,’ that probably does me the most good, because I want to be believed. It’s a hard thing to come forward and talk about. And for somebody to choose to make me valid…that’s nice.”
Clockwise from top left: Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and Kathleen Willey.
The other women who've accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct — such as Gennifer Flowers (adultery), Paula Jones (sexual harassment), Kathleen Willey (unwanted groping), and, of course, Monica Lewinsky (more high-stakes adultery) — have sought celebrity, financial settlements, or book deals. Broaddrick hasn’t. When not living in the shadow of the most powerful political couple in recent history, she’s enjoyed privacy and comfort. She made good money as a nursing home administrator and now lives the dream retiree life, complete with indoor tennis sessions (her Twitter handle is @atensnut, or “a tennis nut”) and the occasional European cruise.
Van Buren, a town of 23,000 near the Oklahoma border, isn’t fancy, and Broaddrick’s colonial-style mansion would stand out if it weren’t hidden from view. Her 23-acre ranch is a sharp, secluded turn off of a main road with a church, an auto shop, and a smattering of fast-food restaurants.
When I visited, Broaddrick greeted me from her sweeping front porch in rolled-up jeans and a blue and yellow tank top, quickly ushering me out of the 90-degree heat and into one of her living room’s many squishy chairs. Her 13-year-old grandson, Ridge, took a break from painting the fence (Broaddrick pays him $10 an hour) to give me a tour of the property on their camouflage-colored four-wheeler.
Broaddrick first told Ridge her story about the Clintons this year, after he overheard some confusing adult conversations and filled in the gaps with Google.
“It was hard. I almost cried,” Broaddrick said. “He said, ‘I know what happened. I know what Mr. Clinton did to you.’ And I said, ‘Well good, I’m glad you finally know, because it’s been something I’ve dreaded having you find out.’”
Now Ridge is also on Twitter, where he is as precocious and earnest as he is in real life, and hopes to help his grandma “spread the word about Hillary&Bill Clinton from a kids/teens point of view.” So far, that involves making a lot of anti-Hillary memes.
Ridge and I bumped along past blackberry bushes, a lily-padded pond, a trampoline, and a tree house. The house also has a long, shady driveway and is surrounded by an electric fence. Broaddrick sleeps with her bedroom door locked. She wears a baseball cap when she runs errands, although she isn’t sure if her neighbors know, or care, about her past. She didn’t think her longtime ladies’ church potluck group knew, either. Then, one night earlier this year, when Broaddrick was back in the headlines, the women stood up and clapped for her when she walked into their weekly Thursday dinner.
“I found out they all knew, but they would never say anything to me,” Broaddrick said. “I just bawled like a baby.”
Bill Clinton on a visit to a nursing home where Juanita Broaddrick (right) worked in 1978.
Broaddrick, then 35, first met Bill Clinton when he was 31 and the attorney general of Arkansas, during a campaign stop he made at her nursing home. They discussed her business and his campaign — Broaddrick wasn’t much into politics, but she had recently started volunteering for him with a friend — and Clinton told Broaddrick to call his office if she was ever in nearby Little Rock. A few weeks later, she did just that while attending a nursing seminar there. They arranged to meet one morning in the coffee shop in the hotel where the seminar was held. At the last second, Clinton called up to Broaddrick’s room and asked if they could meet there instead, since there were reporters in the lobby below. She said yes. Minutes after entering her room, he tried to kiss her, she says, biting her upper lip, hard.
Shocked, Broaddrick says, she resisted Clinton, even telling him she was not only married, but having an affair with another man (who would later become her second husband). He ignored her, she says, and pushed her on the bed and raped her. Afterward, she says, he put his sunglasses on and told her to get some ice for her swollen lips before leaving the room.
“There was no remorse,” Broaddrick told me. “He acted like it was an everyday occurrence. He was not the least bit apologetic. It was just unreal.” She rushed to the door and locked it, she says, afraid that someone would come back in to kill her.
Two of Broaddrick’s friends who had also attended the nursing conference found Broaddrick in tears, her lips swollen and blue. She told them what had happened but made them swear not to tell anyone else. She was scared of retaliation, didn’t think anyone would believe her, and blamed herself for allowing Clinton to come up to her room.
“I had never known anybody that had been raped,” she told me. “I could not imagine anybody that could get in that situation and not get out of it.”
Soon after, Broaddrick says, she ran into Hillary Clinton at a political rally Broaddrick had promised friends she would attend. Hillary shook her hand and thanked her for everything she had done for Bill. To Broaddrick, the gesture felt like a threat to stay silent. As attorney general and later governor, Bill Clinton was “the main person that regulated my business and my income,” Broaddrick said. “After she said what she did to me, I just thought, I will keep quiet.”
Hillary Clinton’s campaign declined to comment to BuzzFeed News but has in the past denounced attempts to connect Hillary to the allegations against Bill, saying that she “has spent her whole life standing up for women, and charges to the contrary are grossly unfair and untrue.”
Broaddrick says Bill Clinton called her a few times after the assault but she never picked up. Aside from a letter his governor’s office sent her when she won a nursing home award in 1984 — Clinton scrawled “I admire you very much” on the bottom — the next time she heard from him was in 1991, when, she claims, he confronted her in person to apologize. She wondered what had caused the change of heart. Soon after, he announced he was running for president.
Despite Broaddrick’s attempts to keep her story within her small circle of friends, word traveled through Arkansas' small-world political circles. State Republicans who opposed Clinton tried to convince Broaddrick to go public. Lawyers for Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who sued Clinton for sexual harassment, sent private investigators to Broaddrick’s door in 1997.
“It's just that was a long time ago and I don't want to relive it,” she told them, according to a public transcript (they recorded her without her knowledge). “You can't get to him, and I'm not going to ruin my good name to do it.”
When Jones’ lawyers subpoenaed her, Broaddrick signed an affidavit denying that Clinton had ever raped her. It was her decision to do so. “I did not want to get involved, and I signed it hoping to stay out of it,” she told me. The next year, Clinton was on trial for impeachment for allegedly obstructing justice during the Jones case. Federal prosecutor Ken Starr’s investigation team reached out to Broaddrick to ask whether Clinton had forced her to file a false affidavit. Broaddrick was afraid of lying to a federal grand jury, she says. After Starr gave her immunity from prosecution for perjury, she decided it was time to tell the full truth.
Broaddrick still desperately wanted to stay anonymous, but Jones’ lawyers used her name in a 1998 court filing. As Clinton’s impeachment trial loomed closer, reporters started staking out her house and tabloids printed vicious rumors about her family. Broaddrick agreed to sit down for a television interview with NBC News' Lisa Myers on Dateline. She also hoped to help impeach Clinton.
But the meticulously fact-checked Dateline report didn’t run until two weeks after the impeachment trial, in which Clinton was acquitted. Starr found Broaddrick’s rape claims inconclusive — the statute of limitations on them had passed decades before — and didn’t include them in the report, although he allowed Republicans to hear them.
A clip of the Dateline interview.
NBC / Via dailymotion.com
NBC has said the 35 days it took to vet the segment were standard. Myers, who said she had never fought so hard to get something on the air, explained the delay to Broaddrick this way: “The good news is you’re credible. The bad news is you’re very credible.”
Myers, now retired and living in Florida, has stayed in touch with Broaddrick ever since.
“No one can objectively look at Juanita's story and not be troubled,” she told me. “One of the things that makes her so credible is who she is — open, straightforward, seemingly guileless.”
When the segment finally aired, it didn’t make much of a splash. Maybe it’s because NBC ran it opposite the Grammy Awards. Maybe it’s because Americans had Clinton scandal fatigue. Or maybe it’s because, in the ’90s, an extramarital affair was one thing, but “date rape” — the then-newly popularized term for rape victims who know the person who attacked them — was another. Today, there’s less stigma about rape and many more victims who go public with their stories. These accounts are often complex, but reporters are no longer as nervous about covering stories without clear evidence or answers. That wasn’t the case back then. Much of the post-Dateline news coverage focused more on why NBC took so long to run the interview than on Broaddrick’s rape claims.
“No one can objectively look at Juanita's story and not be troubled.”