I have to admit, that was my first instinct as the initial accusations came up against Sen. Franken. At first, I thought this must be someone paid off by right-wing interests to discredit a strong liberal voice. But then another came forward. And another. One is a former Democratic aide. No, he's not a rapist like some of the harassers we've heard about lately. He didn't drop his pants. But a U.S. Senator forcing women to kiss him while he shoves his tongue down their throats and grabbing butts during photo ops while in office is bad enough.
I've been saying it for 31 years and will keep saying it: if you don't stop a sexual harasser, their behavior accelerates and spreads. If Democrats did a wink-wink at Franken's accusations and did nothing to punish him, he would assume he could get away with such behavior and continue, plus others would assume they could do the same. Sure, Franken is the much-beloved manager, the top salesperson, the popular CEO. There was talk of running him for President.
But failure to act would perpetuate the culture of sexual harassment that exists in this country. That's how we got here in the first place.
Democrats and liberals are mad. These are the folks who would normally be clamoring for tougher sexual harassment laws in the wake of #MeToo. I predict that the loss of Franken and Conyers, plus some major Democratic fundraisers, will mean that little is proposed to protect sexual harassment victims. And I wouldn't expect any such activity from Republicans in any instance, since the Republican leadership seems only to care about women if they are a fetus or carrying a fetus.
It's Already Getting Ugly Out There
I've heard ugly things about the victims and the women who demanded Franken resign already:
- "Stupid bit##es. They'll regret this." Of course we will. We'll suffer the loss, the same as the company suffers when the top salesperson or the CEO is let go. But we should be mad at Franken for failing to stop his boorish comedy routine when he became a Senator, not the accusers, and not the women in Congress who demanded he step down. Do you honestly think the women in the Senate didn't think about losing the possibility of taking back the Senate before they acted? They're on the front lines. Of course they did. But they also had to be thinking that Franken had lost any moral authority on women's issues or other issues of character if he stayed.
- "It's a matter of degree. What he did wasn't as bad as Weinstein." I've heard this about Franken and about much-loved Garrison Keillor. Keillor claims he was fired because he only accidentally touched a woman's bare back and I call bull****. For us to believe that, we have to assume that the head of Minnesota Public Radio is a moron willing to sacrifice their biggest moneymaker over nonsense. I don't believe that for a second. I guarantee that Keillor has a rock-solid contract saying he can only be fired for cause, so if he really believes what he's saying I guess we'll hear about it in court. But I suspect we won't because then the real allegations will come out publicly. As for Franken, no, he isn't as bad as Weinstein. So maybe this isn't fatal to his career. Maybe if he got some counseling and sexual harassment training he could apologize to the women and voters and say he will do better. Maybe they will give him a second chance. I might if I were them. But I wouldn't keep him as a salesperson and I don't think he should go consequence-free as a Senator.
- "There's no proof. It's just her word." Yep. Welcome to my world. I face this every time I bring a sexual harassment claim. Most harassers aren't stupid enough to leave witnesses or evidence. But here's the thing. The women who come to me are usually terrified. They're crying in my office. They suspect that, if they report the harassment, they'll face shunning, mockery, retaliation, loss of their career. And they aren't wrong. In one case, I'm friends with a very liberal man who heard about an accusation that caused a man in his industry to resign. His response? "I would never take a meeting with her. I wouldn't trust her." This was a case where the company's lawyers investigated her allegations. Do you honestly think the company's lawyers didn't do everything they could to discredit her and save their guy? If the company's lawyers are against him, something really serious must have happened. Yet this woman's career is probably damaged irreparably. Men will Mike Pence her and refuse to meet with her alone. They will assume she's a liar, although she did not sue or seek money based on her accusation.
- "These women are liars. They're just looking for publicity." Oh, sure. Everyone wants publicity that will get them threatened, shunned, avoided and mocked. Because they all say how well things went for Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky. Most of these women came forward despite being terrified and are not seeking any money. If they are still within the statute of limitations, they should seek money because that's the only thing corporations understand.
I Predict Backlash
I predict backlash. These are just some of the more printable comments from liberals that I've seen. If liberals have turned on the #MeToo movement, backlash is inevitable.
Here are some of the backlash consequences I predict:
- Judges and juries: They will punish sexual harassment victims even worse than usual. The victims will be greeted with more suspicion and skepticism and even worse case law than what exists today. The raised consciousness that everyone seems to think will happen, the presumption of truthfulness of the accuser, will fail to come to fruition.
- The victims: Many of the women who openly made accusations will be shunned and avoided. Their careers will take a step backward and maybe halt altogether. While we've had a brief period where women got brave and openly made accusations, that will roll way back as the consequences become apparent.
- The law: No improvements will be made. We won't get a separate law on sexual harassment that makes the standards and penalties clear. We'll be stuck with cases interpreting Title VII and state laws that are difficult to navigate. There will be a push to roll back sexual harassment protections in the next few years, and the public may buy it. Little or nothing will be done to protect victims against retaliation.
- The harassers: Some who were outed will manage to redeem themselves and come back in their industries. Some will continue and get worse because nobody dared to report them. The culture of sexual harassment will continue in this country for at least another decade.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope that we can all come together and work on some sensible improvements to the existing sexual harassment laws. I hope we will be in a new era of believing the victims who come forward to accuse sexual harassers. I hope we crush the culture of sexual harassment and move forward toward true equality for women.
But I'm not wrong.