In the past few weeks we have seen an awakening of courage, sparking revelations and accusations from survivors of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment aimed towards their abusers. In the private sector, we have seen these stories and allegations sinking prominent and dangerous men’s careers — especially within the entertainment industry.
Predators and harassers alike, such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey have all lost their jobs, while others, like former Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick, has even had a criminal investigation opened up against him in light of rape claims.
Within the entertainment industry, we are seeing at the very least, karma and glimmerings of justice finally catching up with predatory and abusive men.
However, this doesn’t stand true within the nation’s capital. In lieu of politicians immediately losing their posts, we are seeing a hesitancy to even hold them to the basic standard of not being a creep.
This hesitancy can be explained simply by the toxic culture that inappropriately dominates politics throughout the country. For one, in the predominantly male occupied political sector, men have grown far too over-confident in their power and privilege, believing that they’re somehow protected to carry out such heinous deeds.
The story of congressmen Blake Farenthold’s former communication’s director, Lauren Greene, is a prime example. A recent Politico story from December 4 describes how Greene was “blackballed” after she came forward about sexual harassment carried out by Farenthold. Further, Greene has been unable to find stable employment since, which, according to a prospective employer, is due to the accusations she brought forth.
This is more than just anecdotal. Broadly, survivors are rarely believed, or even heard from by the public. Politicians will contort and slime their way out of owning up to their actions, trying to silence survivors through financial or threatening means.
Often, one such way to try to silence the victims of sexual misconduct in congress is through use of settlements, or hush money.
This is exactly the case of Sen. John Conyers, whose systemic predatory behavior resulted in his resignation this week. Similarly, Buzzfeed in a story from November 20, found that a settlement of $27,000 was awarded to a former staffer of Conyers. He was able to maintain his position of power and was able to keep the allegations away from the public due to the fact his settlement funds were umbrellaed under “Capitol Hill workplace violations.”
Instead, there should be a separate, publicly accessible financial record of settlement money, and precisely why it’s being used. Such ambiguous and opaque documentation is absurd, creating a culture that brings no justice to the guilty, and no peace to the survivor.
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Additionally taxing, the lack of transparency within this catch-all fund affects the relationship between politician and their boss, us, the voters. The loophole of general workplace violations means that sexual assault and harassment often get swept under the rug, as another “expense” for the politician’s office. This means that a politician’s constituents cannot hold them accountable. This solves nothing, and only bolsters the guilty.
By silencing the voices and stories of survivors through private and vague financial agreements, we convey the message that powerful men are immune, effectively invalidating those who have been brave enough to come forward in the first place.
This is a symptom of an even bigger concern. The political complex that operates at the beltway has normalized and accepted such dangerous behavior. This can be seen by the lengths political groups are willing to go to defend abusers, in the name of sycophantically harnessing more power.
With the endorsement of Roy Moore — someone filthy enough to be banned from a mall — the GOP has unequivocally decided that they will die on the hill of rape apologists, sending a message to abusers in politics that they’re justified in their actions, while simultaneously continuing to belittle the voice of the survivor.
It’s imperative to society that we hold politicians — and the broader institution they operate within — accountable for their actions, and by maintaining a political institutive norm of hushing sexual misconduct charges against politicians, we accomplish nothing.
Transparency and awareness can help address this crippling failure of political institutions. By publicizing settlement details carried out by politicians, we are able to bring predators to justice, no longer allowing them to get away with sexual misconduct without consequence.
Similarly, with transparency, perhaps society will in turn no longer allow people like Lauren Greene to be victim-blamed, and will instead more broadly support these people who often feel afraid of the consequences of coming forward. Transparency will help build stronger ally networks, while also taking an important step in dismantling rape culture in the public sector. Which, hopefully, like in the entertainment industry, will result in more abhorrent abusers losing their jobs.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a junior studying history and politics.