Hibben: Prioritize Victims over Politics


Mark Draper

The Utah State Capitol Rotunda on Friday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Photo by Mark Draper | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Aya Hibben, Opinion Writer


The United States’ political news is regularly flooded with complaints against politicians for sexual harassment and assault. Andrew Cuomo, Matt Gaetz, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are all on the growing list of political figures who have been accused of inappropriate behavior toward women and children. More broadly, a study done by Stop Street Harassment found that more than eight in ten women in the U.S. have been harassed — including verbal and physical harassment, cyber harassment and sexual assault. On top of the trauma sexual harassment causes victims, it hurts workplace efficiency, productivity and the overall work environment — yet it remains pervasive and unreported, often because victims face pressure to stay silent. The complication of powerful figures being involved has stopped many victims from receiving justice.

A Pervasive and Persisting Problem

Sexual harassment is a crime, yet in the realm of politics, reports of the behavior are often treated as simply scandals to be swept under the rug. Political parties and their supporters need to stop overlooking the experiences of individuals for the success of their candidates. Survivors of sexual harassment and assault deserve to be listened to and taken seriously, regardless of party politics.

One of the most difficult parts of being a victim of sexual harassment or violence is speaking up. There are many barriers that prevent victims from bringing attention to their experiences. It’s even more difficult to speak up against someone in a position of power, supported by voters, political parties and interest groups. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Over 85% of people who experience sexual harassment never file a formal legal charge,” and 70% don’t even file a complaint at their workplace.

Sexual harassment can also be hard to label, as it is measured by its impact, not its intent. Sexual jokes or touches might seem harmless to some people, so when perpetrators are not called out on their behavior, they continue. The 2016 Fox News scandal revealed not only the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment but also how victims were often silenced or ignored when they tried to report. In addition, bystanders rarely stood up for their coworkers, at risk of “political suicide.” Workplaces need to make safe, supportive spaces for potential victims instead of placing all the responsibility on victims to navigate the system. So how can workplaces encourage individuals to report?

Steps to Be Taken

There are several steps government offices can take to root out sexual harassment and violence. First, workplaces need to look out for warning signs and conditions that place employees in risky positions. Isolated workplaces can result in vulnerable places where employees could easily be assaulted or harassed. Harvard Business Review recommends placing small windows in offices or placing two exits in common areas so that individuals never feel truly trapped in a space.

Second, organizations need to define and enforce clear policies around workplace behavior. These rules help employees and employers understand not only what sexual harassment and violence are but how to report any incidents. Anonymous reporting policies can also help victims tell their stories. Third, government offices need to impose training and promote healthy, comfortable work environments that help victims feel safe. Bystander training helps others help survivors come forward, and creates a system of accountability. These steps help individuals feel safe and secure at work and create a better, more productive workplace. This is especially important for our government, as its efficiency fuels our country.

The last, most important step to demolishing sexual harassment and violence in government spaces is changing leadership when incidents occur. Politicians cannot be held accountable by voters. Voters often have to wait years to take any action, and by then some complaints are forgotten or placed behind party agendas. In the 2018 Alabama Senate race, for example, most voters said in a poll that they would not vote for a candidate who had been accused of sexual harassment. Yet most people who voted against Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct involving minors, did not cite those allegations as their major reason.

Even though Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones, voters did not take his sexual misconduct allegations as seriously as they said they would when they got to the polls. Voters also didn’t sway much from their own political party, showing that their party loyalties mattered more than these allegations. That means voters shouldn’t be responsible for this reckoning. It takes too long and doesn’t result in immediate consequences. Instead, perpetrators of sexual abuse in politics should be held accountable by their fellow government employees, and sexual harassment laws should be strengthened. No politician should be able to slip by with simply an apology. Full investigations should be launched and platforms for victims to speak on their experiences should be public and easily accessible.

Recent cases of sexual harassment and assault allegations among our state and federal leaders have shown Americans time and time again not only that politicians will not be held responsible for their actions, but that our government does not value or respect the voices of victims. Inaction sends a message to survivors that they will not be listened to or believed, and makes a poor example of us all. No candidate should have their political values prioritized over their clear lack of respect for other humans. Putting party politics over victims encourages a system that lets power rule over justice, and damages the framework for equal treatment that our Constitution provides.


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