Sexual harassment is more than a Hollywood scandal that many would prefer to paint it as. It is America’s dirty secret — and has gone on for far too long.
As each day passes, we learn more about how pervasive sexual harassment is in this nation and how many women have been victims of men with power. It also is apparent that many others have found reasons to look the other way when it occurs, adding to our collective national shame.
While sexual harassment has often been minimized in the past — boys will be boys or it’s just locker room behavior — it’s impact on our culture has been exposed in graphic terms since the New York Times reported that Harvey Weinstein, a 65-year-old married man, used his status in the movie business to pressure aspiring actresses into sex.
So far, more than 40 women have told their Weinstein stories that occurred over decades. It was fear and shame that kept them quiet until now; others in Hollywood were complicit in their silence. Since the Weinstein affairs became public, the #MeToo movement has empowered more women to share their sordid stories of enduring sexual advances and assaults in order to get a job or advance their careers.
Well-known figures in entertainment and the media are among the first to fall as allegations of sexual harassment are causing their careers to crumble and tarnishing their reputations. But it would be a mistake to believe this behavior is limited to the East and West Coasts.
It happens in South Dakota, too.
On Wednesday, the Journal reported that a circuit court judge affirmed that the Douglas School District acted properly when it fired a male teacher for sexually harassing a female teacher in 2016 at an educational seminar where others were present.
The teacher was challenging the district’s reason for terminating him, citing his many years of work with a flawless record. He also claimed his reaction to alcohol and prescribed medication led him to inappropriately touch his colleague more than once and then draw male genitalia on a picture of an animal before asking her out for cocktails — an invitation she declined. The teacher's lawyer called his punishment “harsh." Two witnesses at the conference corroborated the female teacher’s allegations.
The school district, which has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, could have settled out of court. It decided, however, to defend itself in a public venue. Its attorney also made an important point when he said: “It is the conduct that matters, and the conduct is undisputed.”
Allegations have been raised at the state capitol as well. According to published reports, as many as 15 women said they have been sexually harassed in the capitol city. One women said she was raped by a lobbyist. Last year, a lawmaker resigned from the Legislature after admitting he had sex with an intern.
So far, only Gov. Daugaard has responded to those reports by encouraging victims of sexual harassment to report any cases of that although he doubts it is a big problem in Pierre. Legislative leaders have said little about the reports.
While the Douglas School District Board has set a laudable standard for handling a sexual-harassment case, the governor, state lawmakers and other leaders in the state need to take a stronger and more vocal stand against this behavior. Stronger policies are needed to discourage sexual harassment and more women need to be put in positions of authority to further deter these activities.
We, as a nation, can no longer afford to look the other way. The publicity generated by the Weinstein coverage has encouraged more victims of sexual harassment to speak out. Now, the rest of us need to show we are listening.