As the #MeToo movement in 2017 swept across the United States, it became clear that sexual harassment is not a localized issue, but an extensive one, affecting millions of women around the globe. Although these incidents were certainly not the first time a woman had been sexually harassed, it was the first time women called it out and came together in solidarity to hold perpetrators accountable and support fellow victims.
Since then, countless accusations and accounts of sexual harassment have surfaced, notably in politics. This is certainly a worldwide issue, but the election of Donald Trump highlighted the fact that in the United States, many of the men running the country believe they can violate the rights of others without being held accountable. Even after numerous allegations against Trump, the public ignored the women’s claims and instead chose to elect this man to be the most powerful person in the country. Society’s ability to dismiss the assault claims against even the highest ranking official in the country illustrates the clear disrespect for women, their bodies and their rights.
In 2018, claims of sexual harassment came to light against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. According to the Senate’s website, even after Christine Blasey Ford bravely testified for days, Kavanaugh’s nomination went through by a 50-48 vote, making him one of the most powerful men in the country. This lack of accountability illustrates that the burden of proof is consistently placed on the accuser by the government.
This is why the recent accusations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sadly unsurprising, given that little efforts are made to protect the women taken advantage of by men in power. According to The New York Times, Cuomo faces several accusations from former and current employees who claim they were touched or kissed without consent and propositioned for sex. They go on to explain that years ago, Cuomo asked for the resignation of the former state attorney general, Eric Schniderman, for sexual harassment allegations.
This is where the hypocrisy comes in. Cuomo now claims that his situation is different from Schniderman, because the allegations against him are less severe. The level of severity should not matter. The fact that multiple allegations exist (and more are coming to light daily), demonstrate the gravity of the issue.
The Washington Post also highlights Cuomo’s hypocrisy for branding himself a big supporter of the #MeToo movement, and the fact that the allegations against him happened after he claimed to believe and support women who had suffered sexual harassment. They additionally explain that Cuomo has since come forward defending his actions and words as harmless jokes, which was very similar to what he was fighting against years before. This is the perfect example of women’s predicament in politics today: a man benefiting when taking a tough stance against sexual harassment while simultaneously harassing the women who work for him.
These are all cases of men taking advantage of their positions and connections, knowing that there will be no punishment for their actions. These men have such power and force in the government that women feel they would risk their entire careers if they report harassment, assault or quid pro quo. This sets a terrifying precedent for women around the country who want to succeed and rise in their fields, but are told by people in power that they should stay quiet about their abuses.
Even when some of the allegations would not be considered “punishable by law,” the fact that these women, who were working under men like Cuomo, Kavanaugh and Schiderman, felt demoralized is all that is necessary to illustrate their quandary. Additionally, the fact that sexual harassment by polticians is so commonplace and normalized reflects a disrespect for the growing number of women in government. If our leaders cannot understand the basic tenets of respect, how can they be trusted to help lead the country and make laws that impact women, like abortion laws?
Society encourages women to constantly be on the lookout and ready to protect themselves, but there is not enough effort made to educate young boys. Women are forced to learn from a young age to always be on the offense, but men are not always taught how to engage in appropriate behaviors. It is time that the blame shifts from victims to perpetrators. It is time that men, especially those leading our government, take responsibility and accountability for their actions and model appropriate behavior for younger generations so that girls and women can finally be free of the burden of defense. The government as a whole needs to not only recognize the increasing appearance of these cases against their peers but be stricter when it comes to investigating as well as prosecuting the offenders.