Tag: Sexual harassment

The Stenographer Class

As you may have heard, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is under fire. He has been alleged to have sexually harassed a number of women, including many of his own staff members, over a span of decades. We’re not talking about the odd dirty joke; we’re talking about groping and kissing just about any woman who was alone with him for ten minutes. This might sounds familiar.

But check this out:

Regardless of how the Bob Filner mess eventually ends—and it will end, somehow—there are questions that need to be asked and answered.
They are questions that should have been asked long ago, and should have been asked by those whose job it is to ask such questions: us.

Who are “us”?

“Us” are the San Diego news media reporters, editors, producers and writers who pretty much knew who and what Bob Filner is and has been.

Yes, I’m including myself in that group. I’ve covered Bob Filner off and on since he was elected to the San Diego Unified School District Board in 1979. From the beginning, most of us saw how arrogant Filner was and is, how abusive he could be to his own staff members, how he felt elective office entitled him to be all those things and more.

We keep seeing this over and over again. Bill Clinton’s behavior was ignored by the media until Matt Drudge dragged it out into the open. John Edwards’ scandalous and awful behavior was ignored until that National Enquirer broke the silence. Ted Kennedy was treated as the “Lion of the Senate” and Chris Dodd was praised even as they left behind trails of shaken women.

We’re not talking about extra-marital affairs; ignoring politicians’ personal lives goes back to Jefferson. What we’re talking about are men who treat women with callous disregard and disrespect, who engage in systematic predatory behavior and get away with it because they are powerful. Men who go through life with people looking the other way for decades as they engage in rotten abusive behavior. They behavior is ignored because the media always cozy up to politicians. And ignored because these particular politicians are advancing views they agree with.

How many other Bob Filners are out there? How many more women are being ignored or being told to grit their teeth for the greater glory of the party? Don’t come to me with your feminist credentials after a powerful politician’s awful behavior has been unveiled after decades. Don’t come to me when you rant about it with one party but ignore it with the other. Come to me when you’re the first to say, “We won’t tolerate it no matter who he is.”

For every media person who is out there doing hard work and exposing corruption and abuse, there are ten who are glorified stenographers. Worse than that: glorified publicists. They repeat anything the politically powerful say uncritically. They write glowing profiles of men they know are awful people. They constantly tell politicians how swell their ideas are. This phenomenon is heavily biased in favor with Democrats, of course, but Republicans are not without their own gaggles of faithful media dogwashers.

This has been going on for a long time but the last decade, in particular, has seen the perfidy of the media exposed in all its appalling glory. When are they going to learn?

She Said Don’t Hand Me No Lines and Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Those of you who went to college in the 90’s might remember Antioch College’s bizarre sexual assault policy. Conceived by campus activists on a late-night political correctness bender, this policy stated that verbal consent was required for any and all sexual activity. Interpreted strictly, this meant that if you did not ask your girlfriend of four years if it was OK to take off her bra, you were potentially guilty of sexual assault and could be expelled. The policy was widely ridiculed.

This was part of a general push on sexual assault and harassment issues in the early 90’s. It wasn’t unjustified — many universities barely had policies on the subject and those policies that did exist were designed to keep it quiet. My own college was involved in lawsuit when they allegedly failed to deal with incidents of rape on campus.

But, as is often the case with campus radicals, they pushed too far, abandoning the idea of “no more in loco parentis” in favor of universities that were empowered to punish any behavior that anyone considered untoward. A rallying cry at the time was the ultimate subjective view of issue: “if someone thinks they’ve been harassed, they’ve been harassed!”

Guess who thinks those activists had the right idea?

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature'” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are:

  • Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—subject to discipline.
  • Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
  • Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.
  • There is likely no student on any campus anywhere who is not guilty of at least one of these “offenses.” Any attempt to enforce this rule evenhandedly and comprehensively will be impossible.

    That last part might be the most important. If a University decides they want to get rid of a student, they can easily find some way he has violated this policy. Maybe someone got offended when he told the joke about the bishop, the monkey and the six cantaloupes. Off with his head!

    It’s actually even worse than this. Through the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX, the federal government has been pushing universities toward using a “preponderance of evidence” in sexual assault and harassment cases with the implied threat of revoking their federal financial aid. Under this standard, you don’t need to prove someone committed a sexual assault in order to boot him off of campus and ruin his career. You only have to think there’s enough evidence that he probably did so (this is the standard used in civil cases and grand juries). When you add in that campus courts are often kangaroo courts with rules of evidence and testimony that come from watching Matlock with the sound off, the situation is frightening.

    Obviously, no one doubts that universities should protect women from sexual harassment and assault. But they should not do using a standard of justice that would be laughed out of North Korea. We should strive, wherever possible, to make our college campus more free than the rest of society when it comes to freedom of expression. College is where you are supposed to rub elbows with bad ideas and say stupid things.

    For far too long, these policies have advanced because their proponents have successfully painted their opponents as evil sexist monsters who want women to be groped and harassed. Such tactics were used to renew the VAWA despite serious problems with the law. But when we’ve gotten to the point where someone can be thrown out of college because a student court thinks it likely that he made a dirty joke, haven’t we gone too far?

    The Clementi Case

    You’ve probably heard about the Tyler Clementi case. Dharun Ravi videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi having a gay encounter. The roommate later committed suicide. Actually, that’s not quite true. Ravi claims he set up a webcam to see if his roommate’s visitor would steal something. When he saw them kiss, he turned it off. Later he deliberately set up a webcam and tweeted it to his followers. But Clementi had turned off the computer so nothing happened. Sometime after, Clementi jumped of the George Washington bridge.

    The incident has led to numerous anti-bullying and cyber-bullying laws and, this week, led to the conviction of Dharun Ravi on invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He faced 5-10 years in prison and everyone is delighted.

    Well, not everyone:

    There was another boy in the room with Tyler Clementi that night. That other boy, so far as we know, hasn’t been publicly identified.

    He also hasn’t committed suicide.

    A mob mentality has set in. People—gay and straight, liberal and conservative—are calling for the heads of the two Rutgers students who cruelly and thoughtlessly invaded Tyler’s privacy. Facing charges that could bring them fives years in prison isn’t enough: people are calling for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei to be charged with manslaughter, even murder. But the other boy didn’t commit suicide. So there had to be something else going on, some other contributing factors, that drove Tyler to such a point of despair and hopelessness that he took his own life. And this one incident of anti-gay bullying, however traumatizing it may have been (and Tyler’s emails and web posts immediately after indicate that he was upset, but not destroyed, by what his roommate had done), were not enough to do it. The other boy hasn’t committed suicide. This one event did not take a healthy, well-adjusted, well-loved gay kid and convince him to throw himself off the George Washington Bridge.

    Surely, that must be some Right-Wing lunatic braying those insensitive things. That’s probably an op-ed by Rick Santorum, right? Nope. It’s from Dan Savage, who is exactly the opposite of Rick Santorum in every conceivable way.

    Savage’s point is that Clementi must have had other problems, more likely a series of bullying incidents, and that this was the last straw that pushed him over the edge. But even that point may not be quite correct. Jacob Sullum points out that it’s not even clear that Clementi was getting any anti-gay-bullying from Ravi at all:

    the prosecution never really substantiated its claim that Ravi deliberately sought to intimidate Clementi because he was gay. The most incriminating statement it introduced was Ravi’s joke that the webcam would “keep the gays away,” which might have reflected nothing more than his discomfort with the sexual activity going on in his room, a feeling that was compounded by the fact that Clementi’s visitor was an older man from off campus who struck Ravi as scruffy and taciturn. A naive 18-year-old’s uneasiness is such a situation is not the same as anti-gay hatred, and there is very little evidence that Ravi harbored antipathy toward homosexuals in general or Clementi in particular (leaving aside the point that such opinions should not be subject to criminal penalties). For all we know, Ravi was completely sincere when he said in a note of apology to Clementi (written after Clementi complained about the spying and asked for a room change) that he had nothing against gay people, a point that was confirmed by the prosecution’s own witnesses. Certainly there was reasonable doubt on that question.

    So why did they convict? Above the Law explains:

    So, the jury believed that Ravi did not invade Clementi’s privacy for the purpose of intimidating Clementi over his sexual orientation. But they thought that Ravi should have known that Clementi would feel intimidated, and that Clementi believed he was intimidated, and so Ravi is guilty and going to jail.

    Is that how we want our hate crime laws to work? Any time we feel we’re being singled out because of our race, religion, or sexual orientation, we’re victims of a hate crime, even if we’re not being singled out because of our race, religion, or orientation? We’ve moved beyond punishing what is in a person’s heart, and moved straight to punishing an assailant for what’s in his victim’s heart.

    Bingo. For years, conservatives have complained that hate crime laws create special classes of victims. I have not paid much attention to that argument because I worry about the larger issue: hate crime is thought crime. If someone beats me up because I’m Jewish, I’m no more hurt than if they beat me up to take my wallet. What we have criminalized is their motive. And only certain motives. If someone beats me because they hate that I’m an asshole and smell bad, they aren’t punished. It’s only a hate crime if it’s the yarmulke that offends them. A verdict like this should put fear into everyone. No longer is crime defined by objective evidence or the actions/intentions of the accused. It is defined by how the victim feels about it — or in this case, how we conjecture that they felt about it.

    Back in college, the feminists attempt to define sexual harassment by the catch-phrase, “if you think you’ve been harassed, you’ve been harassed”. I objected that this left any factual analysis out of the equation; it let people define an offense any way they wanted to — in this case, an offense that could result in expulsion from school. It created an arbitrary state of law that could be used against anyone the authorities didn’t like.

    We’re now seeing this mentality creep into law — if you think you’ve been the victim of a hate crime, or the prosecutor can persuade a jury you have been, then you’re a victim. Facts don’t matter; only feelings do. The prosecutors couldn’t really pin anything on Ravi but there was a hue and cry for his head. So they found a way to stretch an overly flexible law to accomodate that outcry. And if they can stretch it to put him in prison, they can stretch it to put anyone in prison.

    (H/T: First Amendment bulldog Mark Randazza).

    She’s made a career of this?

    It looks like one of those Cain accusers thinks that filing such complaints is just another tool in the employment negotiations toolbox, and has a history of using these complaints to force employers to give her perks, breaks, rewards, or all of the above:

    WASHINGTON (AP) — A woman who settled a sexual harassment complaint against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain in 1999 complained three years later at her next job about unfair treatment, saying she should be allowed to work from home after a serious car accident and accusing a manager of circulating a sexually charged email, The Associated Press has learned.

    Karen Kraushaar, 55, filed the complaint while working as a spokeswoman at the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Justice Department in late 2002 or early 2003, with the assistance of her lawyer, Joel Bennett, who also handled her earlier sexual harassment complaint against Cain in 1999. Three former supervisors familiar with Kraushaar’s complaint, which did not include a claim of sexual harassment, described it for the AP under condition of anonymity because the matter was handled internally by the agency and was not public.

    To settle the complaint at the immigration service, Kraushaar initially demanded thousands of dollars in payment, a reinstatement of leave she used after the accident earlier in 2002, promotion on the federal pay scale and a one-year fellowship to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, according to a former supervisor familiar with the complaint. The promotion itself would have increased her annual salary between $12,000 and $16,000, according to salary tables in 2002 from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

    Kraushaar told the AP she considered her employment complaint “relatively minor” and she later dropped it.
    “The concern was that there may have been discrimination on the job and that I was being treated unfairly,” Kraushaar said.

    Kraushaar said Tuesday she did not remember details about the complaint and did not remember asking for a payment, a promotion or a Harvard fellowship. Bennett, her lawyer, declined to discuss the case with the AP, saying he considered it confidential. Kraushaar left her job at the immigration service after dropping the complaint in 2003, and she went to work at the Treasury Department.

    That’s a pattern there. This woman seems to think that everyone is out to get her, or if you are inclined to be as cynical as I am, sees these complaints as a useful tool to get things she otherwise would not get. Neither bodes well for her.

    Kraushaar’s complaint was based on supervisors denying her request to work full time from home after a serious car accident in 2002, three former supervisors said. Two of them said Kraushaar also was denied previous requests to work from home before the car accident.

    Things that make you go hmmm…..

    The Loud Thumping Of Shoes Dropping

    The damn has officially broke. I had mentioned in an earlier Cain post that the presumption of innocence will stay with Cain as long as 1)nothing further emanates from the two sexual harassment complaints, and 2) no other victims come forward. On Friday we heard that the one victim who through her attorney requested the NRA unbind her from her confidentiality agreement so that she could “set the record straight” and rebut Cain’s blanket denials. Although the NRA gave her permission to do just that, she decided that it was all in the past and did not want to open up old wounds, understandably and totally within her right. At that point I figured that the storm has past and the HMS Cain had braved the shoals unscathed. now this:

    A fourth woman has accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment–this time in public. Sharon Bialek told reporters in a press conference Monday that Cain groped her and exhibited “sexually inappropriate” behavior toward her when he was head of the National Restaurant Association.

    Unlike the other two accusations, we have a live person here, willing to identify herself and go into detail as to exactly what she says Cain did to her, not good.

    After dinner, the two were sitting in his car when she claimed he “suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals” and moved her head toward his crotch.

    “I was surprised and shocked, and I said, what are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend,” Bialek recalled saying. “This is not what I came here for.”

    Bialak claimed that when she protested, Cain replied, “You want a job, right?

    Naturally, the Cain camp has declared these accusations as baseless as well.

    We had talked about a pattern before, that given the nebulousness of sexual harassment, it’s complete subjectivity in both defining and identifying it, that if nothing else surfaces, given his decades long tenure in private business management, that the benefit of the doubt must be afforded to him.

    And granted, having Gloria Alred in tow does not lend itself to credibility, but now I’m wondering that since the green light has now flashed, what other stories will come to the surface.

    What’s a Little Harassment Between Friends

    David Greenberg has a useful take on the Herman Cain business. He talks about the changing of sexual mores in politicis over the last fifty years — how extramarital affairs went from unspoken private behavior to very public and ruinous scandals; how divorce went from politically ruinous to acceptable; how homosexual behavior could once have destroyed a politician but is a smaller problem now. The relevance to Cain:

    It may be hard today to imagine that sexual harassment could be considered anything but proof of a serious moral deficiency. The crime has appropriately moved from a widely tolerated practice to one whose gravity is dinned into the heads of every employee in every workplace. But the behaviors that fall under the rubric vary widely, and some may result not from malice but from the inability of men accustomed to one set of rules to adjust to new realities. Certain kinds of flirtation deemed unacceptable today could perhaps one day be regarded as relatively harmless. At the least, in this case, as in the others, we should halt the rush to judgmentalism. We shouldn’t assume that our own culture’s newly developed notions of sexual right and wrong are timeless and absolute.

    Bill James once noted that social progress often comes in the guise of its opposite. In the early 90’s we had an explosion of sexual harassment scandals — Clinton, Clarence Thomas, tailhook, you name it. But what had changed was not men’s behavior. What had changed was that women stopped putting up with it. For whatever social or economic reason, the early 90’s was when millions of women said, “You know, I really don’t like it when you rub my shoulders like that at work.”

    For many men, especially of Cain’s age, this was a radical shift in the landscape. Rush Limbaugh wrote a whole chapter about behavior in radio studios that would now be considered harassment. He wondered why women suddenly didn’t like it. What he missed was that women had never liked it; they had tolerated it.

    We don’t know the details, of course, but the timing of the complaints makes me wonder if the same thing happened to Herman Cain. It is likely that the way he had acted around women didn’t change, but what was acceptable and unacceptable did. It’s also possible, as he claims, that his behavior wasn’t harassing but got swept up when the pendulum swung too far. As numerous people have pointed out, the settlement amounts are “nuisance suit” level.

    What’s really critical is whether Cain changed his behavior or whether this behavior has continued. I’m willing to cut politicians some slack on past behavior or beliefs. But not if it is reflective of who they are today.

    More Cainisms

    The sexual harassment angle on the Cain train will be with us for as long as Cain is relevant. For what damage I thought he did to himself, caught unprepared, which led to pettifogging, obfuscating, and revising his statements as he went along, the fact that the day after the story broke was his biggest payday wrt donations into his campaign tells us that Cain (for the time being) is still relevant and popular.

    I made a comment in the other Cain post that he better pray that no one else comes forward claiming victimhood in what looks like a pattern, this did not take long:

    A third former employee says she considered filing a workplace complaint over what she considered aggressive and unwanted behavior by Herman Cain when she worked for the presidential candidate in the 1990s. She says the behavior included a private invitation to his corporate apartment.

    Now that this has in fact happened, I am going to moderate my position a bit. I do not think THIS allegation is going to hurt him much, here’s why, the source says she considered filing a workplace complaint…………but she didn’t. Secondly, all we have now (this story could flesh out big time later) is an anonymous source telling us that at some point in the past Cain did something she found offensive, not much “there” there.

    If this was the first sexual harassment salvo into the HMS Cain, then it would be more note worthy (like Anita Hill) but it wasn’t and now it smacks of piling on, and until this woman adds more detail to her allegations, I give it the minimalist attention that it is due. The other two women are worthy of attention because they put it on the line, they made the official complaint knowing that they would lose their jobs in the process (but apparently the situation was so untenable that it was worth it to them), they got their money and made the settlement.

    The other Cain story in the works now is that the attorney for one of there aggrieved women wants the NRA to unbind the agreement of confidentiality so that she can answer to Cain’s response that the charges were unfounded:

    A woman who complained about Herman Cain’s behavior when he was president of the National Restaurant Association wants to be released from a confidentiality restriction so she can respond to his statements on the matter, her lawyer said Tuesday.

    Washington lawyer Joel P. Bennett said the woman disagreed with Mr. Cain’s public comments about reports that two female employees of the restaurant trade group had accused him of sexual harassment in the late 1990s. Mr. Cain said this week that he had been “falsely accused” and that the complaints were “baseless.”

    “My client disputes Mr. Cain’s claims that he never sexually harassed anyone, and that the claims had no merit,” Mr. Bennett said.

    For Cain’s sake, he better hope that agreement is enforced to the letter. The last thing he needs is for this woman to get in front of a camera and either catalog his transgressions, or make stuff up, either way, it will hurt him.

    From the other post, it became clear to me that I view sexual harassment as more sinister and deplorable then many. Sure, many times it comes down to he said/she said, and often times innocuous actions can be wrongly interpreted, I get that, but for a woman to risk her job, her livelihood (knowing that corporations talk amongst themselves and continuing in that field might prove problematic) all over one or two incidents of “discomfort”, no, filing a formal complaint is like the last resort and indicative (to me) that they felt they could not work in that environment.

    Many on the right have brought up the Clinton/Lewinsky affair for comparisons sake, to me there is no comparison, sexual harassment is worse. Both offer the power dynamic, one party either being the boss or having power over the other, but Clinton’s BJ’s were at least consensual, with Monica getting something out it, sexual harassment is not consensual, it is unwanted, and usually is repetitive and continual, and sometimes stopped only by formal complaints being lodged.

    My complaints about Cain and his shortcomings have already been made in other posts, and regarding this story, as long as nothing further reveals itself, he will pretty much be left unscathed. He has said they are baseless, I will believe him (for now) and hope that he learned a lesson out of all this, be prepared, his days of winging it on the fly are over, and he is not very good at it anyway.

    Dr. Cain and the Women

    At the risk of flooding the zone with three post in a short time, I did want to open a thread on the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain. The claim is that he paid two women in response to harassment claims. I’ve found his response very believable and straight-forward: he claims he was falsely accused but his trade group settled without his knowledge.

    We’ll see how this shakes out. I’d say I don’t believe someone would go to press with this unless they had the evidence, but I remember Dan Rather’s memos.