The sexual harassment spotlight is squarely fixed on the political world of Washington right now as women’s claims consume the marble steps and halls of Capitol Hill.
Not only are we learning that sexual harassment is rampant in Congress, but over $15 million dollars has been paid to victims through the Office of Compliance, which manages harassment complaints on the hill.
Despite Representative Jackie Speier of California and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introducing legislation to tackle sexual harassment in Congress, and House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing that the House will now require all members and their staffs to participate in anti-harassment training, we cannot really get serious about sexual harassment in American politics until we address the big orange elephant in the room: President Donald J. Trump.
After largely staying out of Alabama Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore’s allegations of sexual abuse, Trump went after Democratic Senator Al Franken who is, rightfully, facing calls to step down for allegedly groping a woman without her consent.
“The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” Trump tweeted. “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”
By weighing in on Franken, Trump not only opened himself up to questions about his own accusations of sexual assault but pathetically attempted to politicize an issue that is not partisan. Let us be clear that both Democrats and Republicans are equally misogynistic. Both sides are also equally guilty of assaulting and harassing women.
But why, if we call for the investigation of Franken, should we not also probe the almost 20 allegations of sexual assault against the president?
While it is clear that the country is entering what could be a revolutionary dialogue about sexual harassment and assault, as more and more women come out with their stories of abuse, we are still not holding the serial sexual assaulter in the White House accountable. Why?
Even the manner in which we treat the victims is different when it comes to Trump. While the women who came out with their stories about Harvey Weinstein launched a national conversation about sexual harassment, and inspired the #MeToo campaign, we seem all too eager to forget the women who came forward with accusations against Trump.
When Trump was running for president, these women went public with their allegations. Yet no hashtag campaign was launched on social media for them. Instead, these victims saw their abuser win the White House. Why are we so dismissive and hypocritical toward Trump’s accusers despite (finally) holding other powerful abusive men accountable for their abhorrent treatment of women?
We are at a real threshold moment in our culture that could really impact women’s rights in America and around the world for years to come. But it could all slip away if we don’t take this opportunity to properly investigate and punish Trump. We must give his alleged victims the same respect we’re giving the women who came out against Ailes, O’Reilly, Franken, Moore, and on and on.
Until the most powerful man in America is held responsible for his reported abusive treatment toward women, he will remain the most potent and prominent reminder to men that if you are powerful enough, you, too can grab women by their genitalia and get away with it.
We cannot let that happen. If we really want to confront rape culture, we need to start at the White House.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.