Schneider: As sexual harassment accusations continue, lawmakers make meaningless responses

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem that extends across industries and fields and requires a response from lawmakers.

by Ellen Schneider

A flurry of sexual harassment claims have been brought against some of the most powerful people in the country, from Hollywood industry moguls, news media tyrants, to even beloved senators. 

If there is a message to be derived from this moment, it is that no one is safe. As accusations were brought against both U.S. Sen. Al Franken and former President George H.W. Bush just last week, and Charlie Rose on Monday, victims of predatory behavior continue to be empowered by those who come forward, and I doubt the momentum will be lost. 

At every job I’ve had since I started sweeping the floors of a low-end hair salon at 15, I’ve experienced some sort of sexual harassment. Whether it be dollar bills being slipped into my waistband, or requests for a detailed depiction of the loss of my virginity, there is nothing that has made my skin crawl like this relentless attention. 

The Senate passed a resolution on Nov. 9, which now requires all senators and their staffers to undergo sexual harassment training. The resolution was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who describes it as the “first step” in addressing the issue. However, it is important to understand that this is not legislation. It is not comprehensive and it doesn’t encompass the entirety of the issue, or all players involved. The resolution pertains only to the Senate, and only on the most superficial level. 

This is a meek attempt to address an epidemic, and it is not enough. As students are eagerly looking to enter these corrupt industries, the need for a better solution is pressing. The horizon for students looks grim because neither our universities, nor our prospective fields are safe.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos dismantled the guidelines used to address sexual assault cases on campuses in September, citing a need for due process. Meanwhile, the Pioneer Press reported in 2015 that the University of Minnesota had paid out $449,500 in sexual harassment settlements over 5 years. 

President Trump seems ill-equipped to address this issue because he has also been abashed by similar accusations. If Klobuchar aims to address it in a way that encompasses all factions of a complicated, and deeply rooted issue, the goal should be to pass legislation. It should not only address the antiquated system which tolerates this behavior within our government, but also the corporations who allow it as well. 

Another attempt at national legislation is the bill sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, which is called the ME TOO Congress Act after the ‘Me Too’ social media campaign. The legislation is inadequate, as it pertains only to Capitol Hill. However, the harassment that takes place in Washington D.C. is only one part of the larger problem. Sexual harassment is rampant across industries, and requires a response that’s comprehensive for all of them.  

Minnesota guidelines in cases of sexual harassment and assault within the workplace were not implemented until 1980, and have gone largely untouched since. 

Workplace bullying should be made illegal. This will weed out behaviors which would ultimately lead to sexual harassment. Because most cases that are brought to court in the U.S. rarely side with employees, it is necessary to make it completely illegal. This will prevent corporations from siding with or attempting to cover up repugnant behavior because the perpetrator is an asset. Workplace bullying encompasses these behaviors more completely. By abolishing all of them, it would create more safe work environments and regulations to which culprits can be held accountable too.