The good news this week is that Democrats and Republicans are finally on the same page about something. The bad news is that it’s sexual harassment.
In fact, men abusing positions of power to sexually harass or assault women, and sometimes men, seems to betray any stereotype of sexual harassers. They can be Hollywood moguls, news people, national politicians, local politicians; they can be heterosexuals or not.
The national news has focused on people such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, actor Kevin Spacey and comic Louis C.K., among a growing list of accused perpetrators.
Here, Minnesota Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, and Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, were accused by women of using the power of their positions to demand sex or hassle women. They both either denied events or said they were “taken out of context.”
I always love that one. I wonder what the proper context is for a text Cornish sent to a lobbyist that said: “Would it scare you if I said that I was just interested in good times good wine good food and good sex?”
Cornish was the head of the powerful House Public Safety Committee and is a former law enforcement officer. The lobbyist needed his support to do her work. I’ll answer for the woman, who asked for anonymity: Yes, that message from a powerful person with influence over your job should scare the hell out of you.
Several women told MinnPost that Schoen repeatedly sent them unwanted invitations to meet and physically grabbed one woman from behind. One woman said he sent her a photo of male genitalia, which he denied.
Cornish admitted he sent the lobbyist texts requesting to have sex. She said no, no, no and no. Nevertheless, he persisted.
“I’m an adult,” Cornish told a reporter. “I’m not a saint.”
Thanks for clarifying, Representative.
Then there was the story of Jason McLean, who was ordered by the court to pay a past victim $2.5 million for sexually abusing her when she was a teenager. McLean, former owner of the Loring Cafe, Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater, fled to Mexico, according to lawyers for some of his victims.
That case first came to my attention more than 15 years ago, when two women independently called to tell me about their unwanted sexual experiences with McLean. Fearful that going public would ruin careers or family, they stayed quiet. Some of them finally found the courage to come forward.
Now, it’s an avalanche nationwide.
Patti Tototzintle, CEO of Casa de Esperanza, a nonprofit that works with women who have experienced sexual or domestic abuse, said it’s particularly difficult for women to come forward if they live in a small community or work in a field where everyone knows one another.
“In the past year or so we’ve seen reports of a powerful person being accused by a woman who is a celebrity,” said Tototzintle. “Women before that didn’t see the benefits of coming forward because they thought they would be discredited” and feared for their jobs or were afraid of being shunned by their family or community. “More and more women are speaking out, and it got women to think, ‘Maybe I can too.’
“At the same time, we don’t want to underestimate the many, maybe hundreds of thousands of women, who aren’t raising their hands,” Tototzintle said.
Casa de Esperanza is among the groups working to help change the culture at Uber following a large-scale sexual harassment scandal there. They also work with young people talking about proper behavior and language toward the opposite sex. “I really believe the community can be a part of the solution,” Tototzintle said.
Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, remembers wearing an “I believe Anita Hill” T-shirt back in 1991. Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and brought the issue to the forefront.
“For me, what’s now coming out has been a ubiquitous problem, and we’ve known about it for years,” said Roper-Batker. “The blinders have come off, partly because of social media. Now we have this powerful medium of truth-telling.
“Men are part of the problem,” said Roper-Batker. “There has to be a big shift to men not remaining silent when they see their buddies objectifying a waitress; when you see in the workplace that women are being harassed, you need to step up and say that it’s not OK.”
Roper-Batker said we can change sexual harassment in the same ways we got people to wear seat belts or stop smoking, and the rash of reports will help. Her organization will be holding a gathering in January, in fact, to coax men into influencing their friends and co-workers to stop sexual harassment.
“I think every woman has a story, and it can change,” said Roper-Batker. “We have to make these behavior adjustments. Don’t indict men, invite men to be part of the solution.”
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