Recently, when asked if I was surprised at the amount of men being accused of sexual assault, I quickly answered, “not even a little.” I recalled the moment where I had to tell my boss that a donor of our organization was sending me sexually laced text messages at 4 am during a multi-day conference and remember being worried that I might lose our organization money.
As I continue to hear accounts of the victims of various powerful men, I am shocked and horrified, but no, I am not surprised.
For too long society has allowed our most powerful industries to hinder the ability of victims to come forward and take action against abusers. Finally, Congress is taking some action. New legislation was recently introduced focusing on “the system for filing and settling harassment claims from congressional employees,” on Capitol Hill, appropriately titled the “Me Too” Act.
The process that stands now is a systematic approach to suppressing the rights of victims, yet another example of an institutional practice meant to protect abuses of power. Currently, staffers who wish to report sexual assault must go through a harrowing 90-day counseling and mediation process before they are able to file a federal complaint; during which, the staffer is required to work with their assaulter, not tells anyone, and self-pay for legal proceedings.
In comparison, the legislator gets house counsel, paid for by the American taxpayer. If at any point in the process a settlement is reached – the settlement is paid for by the US Treasury Department, which since 1997 settlements has totaled $15 million. Meaning, we the American taxpayer have paid the bill. (Imagine if that money was spent on legislation protecting athletes, or earmarked towards ending sexual assault on campus, or funded sex-ed programs.)
I am hopeful that change is imminent – Senate has already passed The Me Too Act and the House hopefully will soon. This Act would require sexual harassment awareness training and reform the process for staffers to file complaints.
Government is supposed to protect American citizens, keep us safe, and help us when wrongs have been done. For decades, our government has not just failed sexual assault victims, but failed us all in its inability to be a model. I am inspired to see change and saddened that it took so long.
Various new administrations are about to take power in governments across the US. I implore upon them to do the same analysis as Congress and for us all to: * Review our workplace policies to ensure they are comprehensive, supportive, and feasible. If they aren’t, revise them, with a plurality of voices in the room. *Call your representatives to voice your support for the Me Too Act.
Finally, thank you to the Members of Congress forcing action; the 1,500 former staffers demanding change; and the brave victims who have come forward in hopes of creating change for us all.
Hoboken Democratic Committee
Ward 6, District 6