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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Harassment reality on Capitol Hill

    The sexual assault and harassment scandals are now reaching into Capitol Hill.   It was only a matter of time after the scandals in Hollywood began to show the pattern of powerful men using their position so inappropriately.   It also brought back to my memory the mindset of 1970's on Capitol Hill.  I was a college intern in Senator Goodell and Senator Muskie's offices in 1971 and 1972.   The job differed from the younger interns and pages in that we got to do constituent work.  Much of the work involved calling Social Security and the Veterans Affairs offices trying to resolve constituent issues with those programs.  Developing good contacts within those departments was the key to successfully resolving issues. 
    Back to sexual harassment.  A truth in most organizations is that the more power you have the more opportunities you have to misuse that power.  It was no different on Capitol Hill.  You shouldn't be surprised that the greatest abuse came from the top of the office.   I should say that I never saw anything inappropriate from either Senator I interned with but that isn't to say that there were many others that fell into this behavior.  I heard many times it said that the 1950's novel Peyton Place could have taken place on Capitol Hill.  For younger readers here is the description of the novel.  One experience that I do remember is one that involved Sen. Strom Thurmond.   I was asked to take a document that needed his signature to his office and wait until he signed it.   Nothing unusual about that until I was told that only male staff and interns were used after a female staff person came back with a story about how the Senator gave her "a too friendly" greeting.  This response was typical of the 1970's approach to sexual harassment as one of protecting your own staff or family from an abuser but doing nothing to stop it or confronting the abuser.  The stories in the news today show that not much has changed in the past 40 plus years.   I don't want to be a pessimist but the reality is that these stories will continue with us into the future.  Abusers may become more discreet but it will continue.  The only solution seems to be more females in power to set a different tone in the workplace.

     Interesting story about Strom Thurmond came out after his death.  Here is the info from Wikepedia:

     "Six months after Thurmond died at the age of 100 in 2003, his mixed-race, then 78-year-old daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams (1925–2013) revealed he was her father. Her mother Carrie Butler (1909–1948) had been 16 years old and working as his family's maid when Thurmond initiated a sexual relationship with her. He was 22. Butler died in 1948 when Washington-Williams would turn 23. Although Thurmond never publicly acknowledged Essie Mae Washington, he paid for her education at a historically black college and passed other money to her for some time. She said she kept silent out of respect for her father[9] and denied the two had agreed she would not reveal her connection to Thurmond.[10] His children by his marriage eventually acknowledged her.[9] Her name has since been added as one of his children to his memorial at the state capitol."

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