Beware the sexual harassment backlash

Roy Moore accuser: I don't want to be silenced
Roy Moore accuser: I don't want to be silenced

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Roy Moore accuser: I don't want to be silenced 01:39

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello: I am grateful for the many women speaking out against sexual harassment
  • But I fear the backlash -- critics who claim the accusations have gone too far or are outright lies, writes Costello

Carol Costello is the host of "Across America With Carol Costello" on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)It is a watershed moment. I hear it all the time and as a woman who was sexually harassed in my first TV job in Akron, Ohio, then fired, I am proud of the women speaking up. So many courageous women are coming forward with their stories, speaking truth to power.

But I am fearful too. Fearful of the backlash -- that is, people saying the accusations have gone too far or are outright lies.
Carol Costello
Much of it is whispered now, but I hear it loud and clear. "It's a pat on the behind -- get over it," or "He isn't Harvey Weinstein. He was just flirting!"
    I've heard these kinds of comments from men and women. Tina Johnson, who accused US Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore of "grabbing," not "pinching," her behind when she visited his law office in 1991, has heard it too. It makes her angry.
    "You don't have the right to tell me what to do with my body," she told me on HLN. "Groping is a sexual assault. If you like it, that's fine, but there are a lot of women who don't." Moore denies the incident.
    Groping is not stripping naked or masturbating in front an unwilling woman, but it is clearly wrong. So perhaps it's no surprise that, slowly, the backlash whisperers are becoming louder. Just as they did after Anita Hill went public in 1991 with harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Thomas denied the allegations.
    Brietbart's Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow is a prime example of this. He recently lamented that "rape used to mean something." Seriously, he did. But there's more. He went on to say, "We used to all know what it meant. And now we don't know what it means. And then we don't know what's credible and what's not. And now everyone is going to come forward."
    Marlow's comments are asinine, but they starkly illustrate a backlash -- or, more bluntly, a way to discredit women who accuse men of sexual misconduct.
    Kimberly Ross, who writes for the conservative website, RedState, happily jumped on the backlash bandwagon after a fellow conservative tweeted only women should be allowed to serve in Congress until we "figure out what the hell is going on."
    Ross, apparently outraged by the notion, asserted a "simple Google search" proves women are just as predatory as men.
    "The female gender has some serious issues that need addressing," Ross wrote. "Electing more women to the Congress -- just because they are women -- is a grand attempt at a virtuous solution. But it is nothing but sexism."
    I could extoll the reasons why a "simple Google search" is not nearly enough to justify Ross' "logic," but I won't waste your time.
    Still, I cannot help but notice that even feminists who have fought against harassment for decades are part of the backlash machine.
    I am talking to you, Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic House Minority leader initially refused to comment on whether Democratic Congressman John Conyers should step aside for secretly settling a sexual harassment lawsuit, while she simultaneously denounced Republican Roy Moore for allegations of sexual misconduct.
    Um, Pelosi, you put a decidedly political spin on something that is not remotely political. That is catnip to the backlashers.
    Emily Lindin, are you reading this? Lindin, who works for Teen Vogue, recently tweeted this nonsense: "Here's an unpopular opinion: I'm actually not all that concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations."
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    I wish you could hear me scream. 'Cause, Emily, you are giving the backlashers ammunition by characterizing our watershed moment as nothing more than a witch hunt.
    I am ecstatic that so many women are coming forward with stories of harassment and assault. But I also fervently believe we -- as supporters -- have to keep a lid on over-correcting wrongs. We cannot celebrate innocent men paying a price for those who are truly guilty.
    We cannot pick and choose who is guilty of sexual harassment based on his or her political affiliation. If Al Franken is guilty of serial harassment, he deserves the same treatment as anyone else. Democrat or Republican, I don't care how sorry he is for past indiscretions.
    If we don't heed these warnings, then I fear our courageous stories of abuse will be twisted by men who feel tarred and feathered in our moment of truth, and they, again, will drive us underground.
    Don't let them.