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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 18, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Politicians accused of harassment

Representative John Conyers Jr. from Michigan has stepped down from his role on the House Judiciary Committee amidst sexual harassment allegations.

Conyers, the longest-serving House Representative, said he would not resign from Congress, but stepped down from the judiciary committee due to “internal pressure,” especially from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Conyers is one of many politicians being accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment during the past few weeks. Actress and radio broadcaster Leeann Tweeden has accused Senator Al Franken of forcibly kissing her and inappropriately touching her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour of the Middle East. Since then, three other women have come forward against Franken. Franken has apologized to the women and said he would work to try to regain the trust of voters and his colleagues.

In addition to Franken and Conyers, Senate candidate Roy Moore has also been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. Leigh Corfman, one of Moore’s accusers, said that she was only 14 years old when Moore, then a 32-year-old judge, kissed her and undressed her.

Despite the allegations, President Donald Trump has indicated his support for Moore in the special election. Trump told reporters in Florida that Moore denied the claims and that Moore’s word was to be trusted.

And, you know, you have to listen to him, also,” Trump said. “You’re talking about, he said, 40 years ago, this did not happen.”

BuzzFeed News first broke the story on Conyers on Nov. 20, reporting that Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 when a former employee said she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

On Nov. 21, BuzzFeed News published another story about another former employee of Conyers who said that while working in his office in 2016, Conyers sexually harassed her by “rubbing on her shoulders, kissing her forehead, covering and attempting to hold her hand” and even asking her to come home with him. The former staff member also said that Monica Conyers, the Congressman’s wife, called her a whore and accused her of wanting to start an affair with the representative.

Conyers has denied all allegations against him.

Due to a law passed in 1995, sexual harassment complaints are handled confidentially, and lawyers for both the House and the Senate are supposed to keep all suits in these matters confidential. Because the law stresses confidentiality, all settlements made are secret.

However, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working to end this policy. Most notably, former Republican Congressman Christopher Shays has called for all monetary settlement information to be available to the public.

“If the taxpayers are basically being charged for the activities of someone, a staff person or a member of Congress, it should be made available to the public,” Shays said in an interview with Newsweek. “That would be the spirit of the very law that the Republicans passed in 1994.”

 

Meaghan McElroy can be reached at mmcelroy@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meaghan_mcelroy