The XX Factor

Why the Masseuse’s Story About Al Gore Rings True

Portland police have reopened the investigation into a local masseuse’s claim that Al Gore groped her, despite Gore’s “unequivocally and emphatically” denying making unwanted advances and his classification of this as a “defamatory” story “generated by the tabloids.” The smoking gun here would be a pair of pants that the masseuse says she has saved since the day of incident because they have a ” suspicious stain ” on them. According to the police statement the woman gave in 2006, Gore was naked under his robe and constantly pressing himself up against her, so she was wondering if the stain might be, well, you can figure it out. Whatever happens, those pants share a display case in the Presidential Museum of Shame with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress .

Many commentators have given us reasons why we should doubt the sex assault story . At Salon , Steve Kornacki outlined a few: The woman did not contact police directly after the incident, the police declined to investigate after she gave her statement because they did not have enough evidence, and the Portland Tribune had the police report but worried the story could not hold up.

I don’t yet know whether the Portland police have some new piece of evidence, or whether they’ve just shifted their perspective on the facts already at hand. The case is a difficult one, since it relies on what will be two competing versions of what happened behind a closed hotel room door. But I do know that the lengthy police statement provides the best description I’ve ever read of why it’s so difficult in such cases for a woman to press charges or even extricate herself from the situation. Of course, this is entirely her memory and we don’t even know who she is, but here is the general picture she describes.

The woman was a very practiced masseuse, or LMT, as she calls herself. In her account, she was slightly suspicious when Gore asked her to massage his abductor but did it anyway. Then he moved her hand to his pubic area and she became alarmed. Every part of her wanted to flee the room, but here is what she was worried about: The hotel had made it clear that he was to receive the royal treatment. She had worked on NBA players and rock stars and all manner of VIP types so she knew what they meant. Her immediate assumption was that the hotel would assume she had irritated or even threatened the client, and that if she ran out into the hall screaming, a security guard would tase her.

Then came the slightly longer-term worries: “I was very dependent on keeping the Lucia’s guests happy as I drew much of my work from them,” she said. Then later: “Even the smallest complaint from him could destroy my work reputation in all the hotels and do irreparable damage to my livelihood.” She described the world of LMTs as a viper pit, where any one of them would sell her out in a heart beat and take her job. And it had taken her decades to reach that position.

Then comes the comi-tragedy where, she says, Gore starts physically assaulting her, and she is truly terrified, but also intent on rescuing her massage cart. She tells jokes along the lines of “too bad we never met in college” and uses special pressure points to try to keep him drowsy as she scurries around the room gathering balms and butters and an iPod. Here, too, you wonder why, if she was truly in danger, she didn’t just run out-but, then again, balms and butters and iPods are expensive for a working woman.

Finally, the big picture dawns on her. She is a massage therapist. He is a “rich kid who is used to getting what he wants” and operates on the basic presumption of “money or power bailing him out of trouble.” She is at the opposite end of that equation. It’s perfectly possible that none of this will hold up in court. But it does ring true in life.

Photograph of Al Gore by Jay Directo/AFP.