Sexual harassment: “Any unwanted sexual conduct that affects the terms and conditions of a person’s employment or creates a hostile work environment.”
Sexual harassment law is clear and prescriptive; how human beings respond to it is often a muddle. And so it’s impossible to predict who will harass, who will take the fall, and who will look the other way.
In light of Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty’s announcement she will not seek re-election, it seems everyone could use some help preventing and addressing sexual harassment. Emphasis on the word everyone. (Esty’s situation comes on the heels of another imbroglio – that of inappropriate texts sent by State Rep. Angel Arce.)
As egregious as the players’ actions (and inactions) in these cases may be, they are not isolated. Elected officials of both major parties engage in sexually harassing behavior, or are complicit in failing to stop it.
But only one party seems to be holding itself accountable. With heavy hearts, Democrats themselves have called for Esty’s resignation, which echoes their calling for the heads of Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers for their misbehavior.
And yet Donald Trump, the abuser-in-chief, continues to get away with it. Where is the browbeating over the president, who has gone on record bragging about sexual assault and is facing no fewer than seven lawsuits for actions ranging from sexual malfeasance to rape? Why does he get a pass when some very effective lawmakers get dumped?
Sexual harassment law is explicit and pertains to everyone, and yet the Republican party — on both the state and national level — continues to enable Trump’s behavior while, at the same time, casting aspersions on leaders who sit lower down on the rungs of power.
Sexual harassment is an equal-opportunity offender: in addition to high-profile Democrats, Congress has its share of Republicans accused of harassment: Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, and Texas Reps. Blake Farenthold and Joe Barton, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the infamous Roy Moore, senatorial candidate from Alabama. But where was the GOP outcry? It seems they only call “off with their heads” when it is a Democrat accused of acting badly.
One thing that must change is the colossal lack of transparency in Congress. As the Esty case is revealing, non-disclosure laws, and a legally-sanctioned conspiracy of silence, is preventing victims from coming forward, stopping higher-ups from reporting, and stymying investigations.
The Congressional Office of Compliance, which oversees complaints against members of Congress, has paid more than $17 million in non-disclosed harassment settlements since 1990. (It’s unclear how many of these are specifically for sexual harassment because the COC’s complex and arcane reporting system does not track by type of offense.) What is clear is that we, the taxpayers, are funding this hush money. Don’t we deserve some answers about who is being protected?
As a society, we will never shift our culture away from one that tolerates sexual violence against women until we all own up to it. It’s past time for leaders from both parties look in the mirror and say, “enough.”
So, I call upon the state Republican party to, once and for all, decry their own leader’s behavior. Rather than gloat over and make political hay from Esty’s situation (as GOP state party chairman J.R. Romano has done), why not do a little housekeeping of their own? It’s time for Republican leadership to stop enabling and excusing violence against women at the highest levels, unless they want that behavior, too, to “trickle down” on a new generation of men looking to their president to set the moral, legal, social and professional tone for how to treat women.
Christine Palm is a candidate for state representative in the 36th assembly district (Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam). She is the principal of Sexual Harassment Prevention, LLC.