Sexual harassment is bigger than party politics

Al Franken accuser blames our culture
Al Franken accuser blames our culture

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Story highlights

  • Roxanne Jones: Ever heard anyone who has experienced harassment or abuse blame the political party of the perpetrator? I never have
  • Offenders exist on all sides, whether it's a blue state or a red state -- and equality for women in the workplace shouldn't be optional

Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of "Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete." She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia's Praise 107.9FM. The views expressed here are solely hers.

(CNN)There's a bad case of selective amnesia spreading through Washington these days and it has infected the public debate about sexual harassment.

Instead of focusing on how to better protect women from workplace violence and harassment and establish measurable ways to hold their abusers accountable, the debate swirls around which party -- Republican or Democrat -- is worse for women when it comes to sexual misconduct.
The problem is that from Democrats John F. Kennedy, John Edwards, Bill Clinton and now, Al Franken, to Republicans Bob Packwood, Donald Trump and the ongoing scandal around Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who's accused of sexual abuse and pursuit of underage women, members of both parties have been been guilty of sexual misconduct that betrays their public claims to respect women and belies any commitment to our full equality.
    Each party talks a good game when they need the "woman vote," but for me, no political party has any right to claim the moral high road when it comes to respecting women.
    We are not there yet.
    Here's why. Have you ever heard your coworker, your daughter, your wife or mother -- anyone you know who has experienced harassment or abuse -- ever blame the political party of the perpetrator? I never have. Sexual abuse and sexual harassment are not about politics. They are always about power and the subjugation of another person. And you don't need to label yourself a feminist or liberal to feel this way.
    That's why it's time for anyone who's ever been abused, or harassed at work to start taking names. Use this powerful #MeToo moment to break the silence and stop being victims. Not because we want to be heroes, or join the next Women's March -- though it's fine if we choose to do so -- but because we know we deserve better than the constant sexual abuse and discrimination that we have had to put up with in the workplace for generations. We know we deserve at a bare minimum a non-hostile work environment. At least, that.
    We know we're tired of it and that it has to stop.
    On Thursday, Franken made two apologies for allegations made by a woman of groping and kissing her without her consent. Tuesday, after shocking testimony from lawmakers describing the toxic climate of sexual abuse in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that "anti-harassment and anti-discrimination" training for all members and staff will now be mandatory. Ryan did not mention, however, any specific details or point to legislation that would achieve the goal of ensuring an equitable workplace environment.
    "I think the culture in this country has been awakened to the fact that we have a serious epidemic in the workplace," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who's led the push to reform sexual harassment policies on Capitol Hill.
    During Tuesday's hearing Speier and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), a member of the House Administration Committee, detailed a workplace culture more fitting for a gentlemen's strip club. Tales of women who have been subjected to lewd behavior and jokes, touched inappropriately.
    Stunningly, Comstock retold a story about a young female staffer who had been tricked into visiting an (as yet unnamed) lawmaker's home to deliver work materials. When she arrived, he opened the door in a nothing but a towel and exposed himself. She fled, went back to work and eventually found another job -- as victims of workplace abuse are often forced to do.
    Said Comstock in her opening statement: "It's time to say no more."
    I'm with her. I'm hoping these staffers will name names. Out those abusers. Their behavior is appalling and they don't deserve the protection of your silence. None of these predators do.
    Thirty years ago, Anita Hill stepped up to the mic to put sexual harassment in the workplace on the national stage and educate us all about the challenges working women face in this regard. Hill excruciatingly described unwanted sexual advances that she was subject to both at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), while working under her then boss Clarence Thomas. There was no system in place for her to report her abuse, and certainly no mandatory sexual harassment training.
    Similar to today, Hill's entire fight felt fixed as Republicans rushed to shoot down her claims and cast them as nothing more than part of a liberal backlash against Republicans who wanted to nominate Thomas as the first black conservative Supreme Court nominee. Liberals and feminists lined up behind Hill, a well-heeled, educated, fearless black professor who played well on TV. This conveniently made it easier to ignore the racism that shadowed the hearings, or the feminist agenda itself.
    History has a funny way of repeating itself, especially if we are afraid to examine why a battle was lost. We need to ask why, 30 years later, we are still seeing rampant sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace.
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    This time around we can learn from past mistakes. We don't have to continue to stumble over race, class and politics when it comes to women's equality. Because whether, it's Hollywood, Capitol Hill, Corporate America or a cashier's job at Walmart -- whether it's a blue state or a red state -- equality for women in the workplace shouldn't be optional.
    We're done waiting.
    It is our right and we intend to claim it even if it means kicking ass and naming names, one by one.