Jenny Beth Martin: Congress inadvertently institutionalized a coverup culture
For several years, Americans have been footing the bill to coverup lawmakers’ sexual harassment incidents and silence victims. Our government has fostered an environment that influences reprehensible behavior without fear of consequence and now expects the Congressional Accountability Act and mandatory sexual harassment training to solve the issue.
Jenny Beth Martin, The Hill: “In defense of Congress, the reasoning behind this rather convoluted dispute resolution process was that there could be scurrilous political operatives trying … to target political opponents with potentially career-ending sexual harassment claims. That is a reasonable concern. But in the process of establishing protections for its members, Congress inadvertently institutionalized a coverup culture, in which the supreme end goal is to get the alleged victims to go away quietly.”
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The Weekly Standard, editorial: “We don’t doubt these women’s stories for a moment. What we do doubt is the likelihood that mandatory sexual harassment training seminars … will make any sort of change for the better. The problem is not that these men don’t know any better; the problem is that they believe they can act in reprehensible ways without consequence. And they face little accountability because it’s far easier for their victims to keep quiet than to risk reprisal and public disparagement by speaking openly about what they’ve experienced. … A law could force perpetrators to pay these settlements out of their office funds. In cases decided in the plaintiff’s favor, moreover, the amounts paid and the nature of the offenses should be made public. Indeed, we would suggest requiring members to pay settlements out of their personal bank accounts (excluding campaign accounts).”
Laws without punishment are like bells with no clackers. If we continue to allow lawmakers to thrive in a “coverup” culture and pay for their actions through office funds, the real issue of sexual harassment may go unresolved. Let’s hope lawmakers use these publicized incidents by fighting sexual harassment, instead of suppressing the victims that want to report it.