It should surprise no one that when it comes to sexual harassment, members of Congress and their staffs are treated differently from the rest of us.
The Washington Post notes a law in place since 1995 under which anyone accusing a lawmaker of sexual harassment can file a lawsuit, but only if they first agree to go through counseling and mediation, possibly lasting several months.
If you think that’s a double standard and outrageous, it gets worse. Should a settlement occur — and many don’t for the same reason women are fearful of accusing bosses in every profession — the member doesn’t pay. You and I do. The money comes from a special U.S. Treasury fund, and the payments are confidential. In other words, taxpayers are subsidizing boorish, even criminal behavior to protect the reputations of our great leaders, who can’t be bothered with the standards they set for the little people they are supposed to serve.
The Post found that while most settlements are small — compared with the tens of millions paid by Fox News — the amount still totaled $15.2 million paid to 235 claimants from 1997 to 2014.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., had it right when she told the newspaper, “It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process.”
Is there any member of Congress who can defend this? If so, they should be voted out of office. If not, the members should be subject to the same laws as everyone else and forced to pay settlements out of their own pockets, and then voted out of office.
After having tolerated sexual predators in their midst for decades, Hollywood is taking the first tentative steps to address the issue. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced it will be establishing a code of conduct for its members. One hopes it will have teeth and that violators “will never work in this town again.”
The entertainment industry needs to go further. While there was much to criticize about the sometimes prudish and hypocritical Motion Picture Production Code that forced actors to keep their clothes on and avoid foul language in films produced from 1930 to 1968, it could be said that films then were mostly not complicit in the lowering of moral standards. That would come later with television, which began pushing against FCC regulations, and then cable and satellite TV, which have no FCC restrictions. Hollywood responded to their loss of audience by “going low” to lure people back into theaters.
Add to this pornographic films, which have done more not only to objectify women, but also to give men who view them the idea that women are hypersexual and welcome their advances. The social consequences from this filth have been documented. They include marital breakups and establishing a view of women in the minds of some men that no woman can — or should — live down to.
Does this material have an effect on young female and male minds? Of course it does, or they wouldn’t produce it. Can it lead to sexual harassment, and worse? It kills the spirit as much as a poison can kill the body.
The entertainment industry has a lot to answer for. Instead of taking baby steps, it should take giant leaps. If it doesn’t, this stuff will continue, from Capitol Hill to Hollywood and everywhere in between.