Sexual harassment has risen to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness with a deluge of recent allegations against liberals and conservatives in many high-profile professions — members of Congress, Hollywood actors, directors and producers, and even journalists who are supposed to be watchdogs against such bad acts.
The primary response in Congress so far is to start requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training of everyone who works there, including senators and House members.
Such training certainly won’t do any harm in trying to create a less hostile work environment for women, who have been the victims in most of the reports.
But really, does anyone need to be trained not to:
— Expose themselves to colleagues or subordinates?
— Touch the private parts of the same?
— Ask them for sexual favors?
— Make sexually suggestive comments or tell off-color, sexually inappropriate jokes to them?
There may be some gray areas as to what is sexual harassment and what is oversensitivity, but most of the conduct that’s come to light is not ambiguous. It’s the blatant abuse of one person’s power over someone of lesser standing for the purpose of sexual gratification. No adult of reasonable intelligence should need training not to do those things. It’s like training an adult pedestrian not to jump in front of oncoming traffic. Some things are just obvious no-no’s.
A greater deterrent to sexual harassment in Congress than superfluous re-education is the fear of being exposed for the misconduct.
Presently, the internal reporting mechanism is skewed to protect the identity of the accused. Before someone on Capitol Hill can pursue a claim of sexual harassment, he or she must agree to mediation with the accused and sign a confidentiality agreement. And while the accused has the benefit of taxpayer-funded counsel, the accuser has to pay for his or her own attorney. It’s a system that’s designed not just to discourage frivolous complaints but to discourage complaints at all.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who says she was sexually harassed by a supervisor when she was a Capitol Hill staffer in the 1970s, is leading the charge to make the complaint process less convoluted and more transparent.
At a minimum, all settlements in employment-related disputes on Capitol Hill — not just those of sexual harassment but other workplace offenses — should be made public. If a member of Congress or a top aide harasses or discriminates, then the public has a right to know what happened and what it cost the taxpayers to make the problem go away.