Twenty-seven years ago the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had no process to vet claims of sexual misconduct. Today, nothing has changed.
The latest national uproar over a claim of sexual harassment has, as you’re reading this, either already come to a regretful end or is headed toward an untenable future. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, gave Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor who says U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago, until 10 a.m. Friday to pick one of two inappropriate choices. She can either keep her mouth shut, or she can tell her tale before a group of mostly male partisans. As a bonus prize, if she chooses the latter, she may very well share the stage with the man she says caused her physical and emotional harm.
If any of this sparks memories of 1991, when another college professor, Anita Hill, sat before the Judiciary Committee and described how she was harassed by then-nominee Clarence Thomas ... well, you aren’t alone.
As part of an opinion column for the New York Times, Hill described how her claims were not taken seriously, and she encouraged existing members of the committee to do a better job with Ford’s accusations. Hill believes, as do I, that an independent investigation is appropriate.
“That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement,” Hill wrote.
Even before the #MeToo movement there were calls, especially from conservative circles, for due process. That is, many want claims, even those decades old, to undergo professional vetting beyond what journalists provide. Investigations should be completed, allegations explored, and an end result of that process reached before anyone is ostracized for past misbehavior.
Perhaps lax investigation in 1991 can be forgiven, since the subject of sexual misconduct was then largely relegated to whispers, but not today.
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Grassley, as head of the committee, has a duty to ferret out the truth in a manner that provides the most comfort to the afflicted. At the very least he must proceed in a way least likely to inflame the wound of an Adverse Childhood Experience.
Instead, Grassley has opted to repeat an ineffective and sordid history.
Once again, a woman raising a red flag has been told her experience is too far in the past, that it occurred when her believed perpetrator was too young and, therefore, shouldn’t be held against him.
But too often we see other young women come forward immediately, only to be told their believed perpetrator is also young and has ample opportunity to change his future.
What we’re left with is a harmed woman, stuck between her believed perpetrator’s past and future.
Knowing the horrific backlash that awaits women who come forward with incidents of past misconduct, consideration must go to the victim.
That’s true for society, and one day, hopefully soon, it will be true for Senate hearings as well.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, email@example.com