Statement on Sexual Misconduct

Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Kevin Spacey; Roy Moore, Al Franken, and George H. W. Bush. These powerful figures in entertainment and politics, all household names, have been exposed in recent weeks by courageous individuals who have challenged our understanding of leadership. As awareness of the prevalence of sexual misconduct in American culture increases, we must recognize the strength and courage of the many people coming forward to tell their stories. With each revelation, this becomes more and more challenging, especially when the past indiscretions of well known, highly respected men are exposed. Watching our heroes fall can be heart wrenching, but we must hold those we look up to just as accountable as those who are easier to condemn.

Unfortunately, the justice system is not equipped to address the issue of sexual misconduct. In the absence of formal justice, it is our collective responsibility to punish the perpetrators of sexual assault and to protect the victims. With this in mind, it is crucial that we understand that holding public office is not a right. It is a privilege to serve as a representative of the people. Our democratic institutions should be led by only the best among us.

"...holding public office is not a right."

Sometimes those we have chosen to lead fail us. Even worse, sometimes those we choose as an electorate fail us. When those who have entered the political sphere or built media empires betray the public trust, they forfeit their claim to esteem. It then becomes our responsibility to pass down sentences by speaking out, withholding campaign contributions, and voting for candidates who care about this issue. We must also support the heroes who speak up against the false leadership figures among us. And, of course, we should conduct independent investigations into these reports, removed from the politics of Congress or the influence of corporations.

Perhaps most important, we must all evaluate our own actions, both in our daily lives and in the past. In doing so, we will work to understand where we have come up short in protecting women, and men, from sexual harassment and abuse, and where we may have directly contributed to these problems. As a society, we must stand up to the powerful veil of silence that protects a toxic culture of abuse, and fight alongside those who courageously take a stand. We must not only call for action, but also act ourselves. Our perpetual goal should be to create a more supportive community so that victims never fear that their stories will be met with doubt, criticism, or shame. The trend of victim blaming will only hinder our progress; we must change our initial questions of "Is she lying?" or “Is she seeking fame?” to “how can we make sure that this never happens again?” We must be better role models for the next generation.

Some of our leaders are not these role models.

On Friday, Justice Bill O’Neill, Ohio Supreme Court Justice and Democratic candidate for governor, bragged about his own sexual history and urged the public to “get back to discussing legalizing marijuana.” In his statement, Justice O’Neill minimized the gravity of sexual assault, discredited all of the women who have come forward, and challenged the importance of having a national conversation on difficult issues. This behavior is incredibly disappointing to see, especially on my side of the aisle. The issue must not be swept under the rug, not by Republicans or Democrats. Party affiliation should have no bearing on the belief that the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault must be addressed. Common decency and morality tells me that the perpetuation of such issues is not ok. Justice O’Neill has tacitly apologized, but I cannot support a man who trivializes sexual assault. He owes the women all across Ohio and the country a better apology. If he refuses to retract his statement, Justice O’Neill must resign. Likewise, if a Senate ethics investigation uncovers a pattern of sexual misconduct, Senator Al Franken must also resign. There is a difference between misspeaking or making a mistake and serial abuse, but when our leaders show that they are unwilling to acknowledge this as an issue, or if they are indeed serial abusers of their power, they are unfit to hold public office.

With that being said, I do not believe that it is coincidental that all of these revelations are coming out now. The fact that there is a misogynist and perpetrator of sexual misconduct in the White House may explain why so many women have become emboldened to speak out. Regardless, I am confident that President Trump is not symbolic of the decline of feminism in America; on the contrary, these revelations are symbolic of the rise of feminism in America. For far too long, these women have had to live in the shadows. In the 21st century, women have vastly greater agency to speak out, and they are taking advantage of that.

We are better than the worst people we elect. When we come together, around the strength of those who have challenged the status quo, we can heal. In recognizing our failures, we will be better able to build a brighter future.

Janet GarrettComment