Sexual Harassment by Elected Officials: It's Nothing New, But Let's Hope the Times They Are A-Changin'

My 9th grade history teacher, Mrs. Cope, loved to quote Lord Acton, saying that "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority."  We often choose not to believe that axiom, to our peril.

The news media have been active in the last few days reporting on sexual misconduct by Republican Alabama Senate Candidate, Roy Moore, and Democratic Senator Al Franken.  The reports concern allegations from activities that occurred many years ago.  It takes a lot of courage to speak up about sexual harassment by public figures, and maybe the tide is turning so that women are believed rather than the powerful men that they have accused.

Years ago, I was involved in a widely reported trial in which my client sued a Montgomery County Councilman, and charged that he had sexually harassed and assaulted her.  The lawsuit alleged that the councilman kept her as a "sex slave," promising her job advancement in exchange for sex.  As Kevin Sullivan reported for the Washington Post on February 6, 1992, "Jurors who listened to 19 days of often graphic, sexually explicit testimony over five weeks told reporters after delivering their verdict that [my client's] allegations were 'preposterous,' 'fantasy' and lies."

That Post article, quoted me saying that "'I firmly believe her, and I have no question that what she says happened happened,' said [the client's] attorney, Norman G. Schneider. 'The climate is not yet ripe for a woman to come forward and bring a charge of sexual harassment against a public figure.'"  

My client was even more articulate, stating, "'Once again, women find that we're less than second-class citizens,' [my client] said. 'I felt often that this was a long, uphill battle. But I'd wage the battle again if I had to.' . . . [My client] said the jurors and the public were predisposed not to believe that a well-respected public official could have a private side that was abusive, degrading and brutal.  'I don't think people really want to hear things like this. It defies the imagination. It defied mine," she said. "The allegations were such that you didn't want to believe. But I know.'"

Let's hope the new understanding will finally put an end to sexual harassment by elected officials.  Maybe, 25-years after that case, the time is now ripe! 

Perhaps, Bob Dylan's old lyrics will document this change:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.