I turned around and gave my coworker the dirtiest look. “Oh, are we not cool like that?” he asked me. “No we are not; don’t ever slap my ass again,” I replied. This is only one instance of harassment I have experienced in the workplace. Thankfully, I am a vocal person and I stopped him in his tracks, but I know many women who go into shock and do not know how to react.
A little over a year ago I was granted an Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP) fellowship, to investigate sexual assault and its prevalence on college campuses. After a year as a UCI Campus Assault Resource Education (CARE) intern I went off to Barcelona, Spain, to dig deeper into gender violence. As my time in Barcelona passed, I became disillusioned with the United States as it elected to its highest office a man who had been caught on video and audio sexually harassing women. Unfortunately, there have been no repercussions for his behavior and this is also true for both Democrats and Republicans who have been accused of sexual misconduct but are still in office.
This narrative contradicts what is happening in Hollywood, where men being accused of blatant sexual harassment and assault are being stripped of their jobs. As Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Billy Bush, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey lose their jobs, in Congress lawmakers are being protected under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
This legislation established the Office of Compliance, where Congress is given the power to handle the complaints made against them. This legislation has paid more than $17 million to more than 260 claims between 1997 and now. Lawmakers, who are supposed to uphold laws, are the same ones that get no mandatory training in appropriate behavior in the office and have taxpayers pay for their transgressions and the victims’ silence.
The media has brought to light the gruesome history of sexual misconduct which in turn has revealed the numerous settlements by both Hollywood and the government. However, the men who are losing their jobs are being honorably discharged and little to no compensation for the victim or a call for reform. An Article by the New York Times, covered the story of Mark Halperin, calling him a “top political journalist” and dedicated the entire article to his accomplishments instead of the fact that this man had built an entire career while harassing women with no repercussions.
Similarly, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi referred to John Conyers as “an icon of a nation…who had done a great deal to protect women” but later would ask him to resign as the allegations against him grew louder. Although there is a growing national discussion about the inappropriate behavior of powerful men, the media is careless of their coverage and there is no true repercussions for the perpetrators. Case in point, Donald Trump, where the media continues to say that allegations have been placed against the commander in chief while there is actual evidence, both audio and video, of his crude comments about the ownership of women and his transgressions.
For women, the growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct is not a surprise; we have experienced this type of harassment in our everyday interactions for decades.What is surprising is that there is often a team of people around them who have helped them silence their crimes. This is very much evident in the millions of dollars awarded in settlements during the past 20 years by Congress. The media reports on those losing their job but there is not enough coverage on the people who helped them cover it up or if they are legally held accountable. The media needs to shine more light on the people around the men of vast power who helped them cover their transgressions.
It seems that we are watching a whimsical political show where the victim is thought to be lying about the transgressions because the media fails to note that like other crimes, the rate of false-reporting sexual transgressions is less than 10 percent, according to the Department of Justice. We must talk about gender violence in a more responsible manner and not be hyper-skeptical of the narratives as they are proving that not only are the allegations true, but through investigations a pattern of this behavior is being demonstrated along with quiet settlements and nondisclosure agreements.
The media often victim-blames, says that women should not dress provocatively unless they want to be harassed, but this type of reasoning has led us to detach humanity from a woman’s body and must be stopped.
Currently, Jackie Speir and Barbara Comstock are pushing for a bipartisan bill to prohibit non-disclosure agreements once a complaint has been placed, but lawmakers are reluctant to unmask the perpetrators among them and the settlements of the past twenty years. The latest “answer” from the government is to require lawmakers and their staff to take a mandatory annual anti-harassment training. This step is not enough as Congress is allowing Roy Moore, who is among those accused of sexual transgressions, to run, backed by Donald Trump. Congress needs to be held accountable, and that can only be done through legislation that eliminates their Settlements and Award Fund, established under the 1995 law, and allow for both genders to work in a safe environment.
The media discusses the perpetrators and the possibility that these are just mere “allegations” so even though they are now more willing to hear victims, they seem to be fascinated with looking for holes in their stories. This new focus on sexual transgressions is still very careless and often leads survivors of these acts to have a hard time processing the articles. For so long women have been taught to have thick skin for harassment, to be less sensitive, women have been asked to live with men’s misconducts. This means that men are not being taught to not harass women, but that society will protect them when they do because if women want to share the same workplace, they have to be okay with being uncomfortable. The media coverage around this topic demonstrates societal attitude change about sexual assault but the language we use to talk about it needs improvement and so does the accountability we have lacked to place on such transgressions.
Alice Giovanna Terriquez is a 2016-2017 UCI SURP Fellow and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.