Former US Vice President Joe Biden, tipped to challenge Donald Trump, has been accused of a "blatantly inappropriate" incident.
Joe Biden is under fire over a "blatantly inappropriate and unnerving" incident that allegedly occurred with a young female politician.
Democrat Lucy Flores recounted her experience with the former vice president under the Obama administration in a first-person essay for New York Magazine.
She described an incident in which the 76-year-old, who is reportedly considering a run for president in the 2020 election, kissed her on the back of the head moments before they were due to give a joint speech in Nevada back in 2014.
"Just before the speeches, we were ushered to the side of the stage where we were lined up by order of introduction," the then-35-year-old wrote.
"As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?
"I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, 'I didn't wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual f***? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?'
"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, "tragame tierra," it means, "earth, swallow me whole." I couldn't move and I couldn't say anything.
"I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience."
Ms Flores said she decided to go public after witnessing how Mr Biden's public image has remained unaffected in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Mr Biden's history of conduct with women has been well-documented in the US press.
But it's often been phrased as a case of "Joe being Joe" — part of his clumsy, "daggy uncle" style personality. At worst, his conduct turned him into a shareable internet meme.
In 2013, an awkward photograph emerged of him embracing TV reporter Amie Parnes in front of a Christmas tree, with his hands positioned just below her breasts.
In the photo, her hands are firmly clasped over his, in what appears to be an attempt to keep them from moving any higher.
In a 2015 incident, he came under fire after he grabbed the arm of a pre-teen senator's daughter, whispered into her ear and kissed the side of her forehead.
She looked visibly uncomfortable with the exchange.
He's also touched women's faces and necks in various other photo ops.
Such incidents have earned him nicknames in some sectors of the American media, such as "Handsy Joe" and "Uncle Joe", but he's rarely been criticised directly for them.
In 2015, the New York Post did a wrap-up of the incidents with women, but described them as "offbeat gaffes", featuring lighthearted captions.
"Judging by the grimace on her face, his simultaneous actions of nuzzling her hair and massaging her shoulders aren't quite putting her in the mood," read one caption of this photo, in which he crept unusually close to the newly-appointed Secretary Stephanie Carter in 2015.
In 2009, The Onion wrote a satirical piece that zoned in on his behaviour towards women, but characterised him as endearing and lovable.
"As Biden gently applied a sponge to the hood and moved it in small circular motions across the car's contours, a number of White House interns walked by and caught the vice president's attention," the satirical article read.
"'Oops, looks like I got a little brewha in the flavour-saver,' added Biden, referring to his wispy, four-day-old moustache. 'Any of you girls care to join me for another tallboy?'"
Mr Biden has had a mixed history on women's issues.
A piece in The New York Times noted his wavering position on abortion throughout his career. In a 1974 interview, the newspaper noted, he said he did not think a woman should have the "sole right to say what should happen to her body".
In 2014, The Atlantic wrote an article called "In Defence of Naked Joe Biden", which defended him against a book that noted female Secret Service agents felt uncomfortable over his habit of swimming nude in his pool.
Still, other outlets have covered his conduct more directly. In 2015, The Daily Beast described the incident with Ms Carter as "extremely odd, and creepy".
"And while the incident is being played as another 'Oh Joe' moment, Stephanie Carter's expression is also piercing: Furious but frozen, it is the expression of anyone being touched or groped who really, truly doesn't want to be," the author wrote.
Through his time in Washington, however, Mr Biden has voted for pro-abortion bills and spoken out about domestic violence.
Ms Flores wrote that she wasn't suggesting the former vice president broke any laws — but that he needed to be held accountable.
"Even if his behaviour wasn't violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful," she wrote.
"I'm not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn't even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point — and the whole problem."
In the wake of her claims, Mr Biden's spokesman Bill Russo said Friday that Biden was "pleased" to support Flores's candidacy, but does not recall the incident.
"Neither then, nor in the years since, did he or the staff with him at the time have an inkling that Ms Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes," Russo said in a statement.
He added that Biden "believes that Ms Flores has every right to share her own recollections and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so."