Energy Secretary Rick Perry caused confusion after he suggested on Thursday that fossil fuels could help prevent sexual assault.
Speaking at an energy policy event hosted by Axios and NBC News in Washington, D.C., the former Texas governor and Dancing with the Stars contestant discussed his recent trip to Africa and how fossil fuels can help bring power to impoverished parts of the continent.
“But also from the standpoint of sexual assault, when the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” Perry said. “So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”
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The Energy Department released a statement to clarify Perry’s comments, explaining that during his visit to Africa last week for an energy conference, he met with African groups and citizens, including one who “told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas,” said spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.
“The secretary was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity,” the statement said.
“Another leader told him about how women in their country have to go to the store every day for a new carton of milk because they don’t have a working refrigerator,” Hynes added. “Those powerful stories stuck with him and that is what he was sharing with the crowd in Washington today.”
Perry’s comments nevertheless prompted the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization, to call for his resignation.
“It was already clear that Rick Perry is unfit to lead the Department of Energy, but to suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.
“He does not deserve to hold office another day with these twisted ideas, and he should resign from his position immediately before he causes any more damage.”
The moment also caused Perry’s name to trend on Twitter, where he was mocked by a number of users.