Old Men and Sexual Harassment

Why are so many perpetrators of sexual harassment old men in $500 suits?

Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, Jr., is 88.  Television personalities Charlies Rose and Bill O’Reilly are aged 75 and 68, respectively. Michigan Democratic Senator Al Franken, is 66.  Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and would-be Republican Senator Roy Moore is 70. Hollywood movie producer  Harvey Weinstein is 65.  Etc.

It is not coincidental that so many  harassers are older. After-all, it usually takes many years to become rich and powerful. However, the age of harassers is incidental. It’s the $500 suit (a metaphor for money and power) that really matters.

Sexual harassment is an abuse of power. Hence, few CEOs file sexual harassment complaints.

Many of the politicians and personalities who were unmasked as harassers in recent months are deeply entrenched in  positions of power.  They use that power in two ways –  to abuse people with less power and to protect themselves from any consequences arising from their bad behavior. They know the system works to protect them, and not the targets of their abuse.

The “system” protects those in power – not their victims.

The U.S. Congress and federal courts have made it ridiculously difficult for victims of sexual harassment to achieve redress in court.  Filing a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment is akin to running the high hurdles wearing platform shoes.  If a victim has the resources to file a complaint, the case will take years and the odds of victory are slim.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s first instinct was to defend Conyers.

The role of power in addressing sexual harassment was on display when House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, 77, appeared Sunday on Meet the Press. She described Conyers as an “icon” who had done a “great deal to protect women.” She suggested it was not appropriate to infer guilt because  Conyers’ victims had not stepped forward.  Commentators later suggested that Pelosi soft-peddled Conyers’ transgressions to avoid riling the black caucus.

It is appropriate to infer guilt in Conyers’ case. Taxpayers, via the  U.S. Congressional Office of Compliance, paid $27,000  to a former Conyers’ staffer who said she was fired for resisting  Conyers’ sexual advances. Conyers signed off  on the 2015 settlement. Even if Conyers did not actually admit to committing sexual harassment in the confidential settlement, the settlement speaks for itself.  Harassers often say they settled to spare their family or avoid costs.  What else can they say?  In a civil matter such as this, there is no requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

After withering criticism, Pelosi indicated Monday that she has had a change of heart. She said she now believes one of Conyers’ alleged victims, Melanie Sloan, an attorney and ethics advocate who worked for Conyers on Capitol Hill in the 1990s. Sloan said Conyers once summoned her to his office where he was dressed only in his underwear.

Sexual harassment has been in the news a lot lately and, clearly, attitudes are changing. But it is not likely that any real change will occur until Congress strengthens the law to protect victims of sexual harassment by insuring that abusers face serious consequences.

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