There are times when it’s quite clear that the Republican Party is hostile to women. Those moments typically come when a Republican speaks about issues related to women. Senate President Scott Sales confirmed that hostility to women in a long Helena Independent Record story in which he dismissed the idea that sexual harassment happens at the Montana Legislature, complained about the hardship of imposing rules that might reduce incidents of sexual harassment, and then, finally, blamed women for failing to come forward:
Sales said it’s incumbent upon those who are sexually harassed to report it.
“Shame on them,” he said. “It’s their responsibility, if they feel like they have their rights violated, that they … bring it to attention so the conduct can be stopped,” Sales said. “I know from my own experience I wouldn’t hesitate to if someone had violated my rights.”
He said women in the Legislature can “handle themselves. They’re intelligent, they’re accomplished, they know and should know the law. They’re assertive. If they feel like they can’t come forward and bring to light conduct that’s not appropriate then how can we ever address this problem on a larger scale?”
Almost all of us who have some level of knowledge about the workings of the Montana Legislature have heard firsthand accounts of sexual harassment and unwanted attention from members of the body. Whether it’s stories about legislators being specifically warned to moderate their behavior toward teen-aged pages or lobbyists and staffers who’ve had to endure inappropriate touching or commentary, everyone knows that like far too many workplaces, the Legislature has allowed a culture of sexual harassment to exist for decades, if not longer.
And those of us who’ve heard the stories know that the women who’ve experienced harassment at the Legislature absolutely are intelligent and accomplished, just as we know it is wildly inappropriate to “shame” them for not coming forward, especially when, as the article notes, the Legislature “does not make clear how lobbyists, members of the public, members of the media or other people who spend time in the Capitol during the session would deal with complaints of sexual harassment against legislators.”
In protesting his ignorance about sexual harassment at the Legislature and blaming victims for their failure to come forward when the body has no institutional guidelines to ensure their complaints will be heard, Mr. Sales is helping to maintain an environment in which sexual harassment will continue to flourish, in which offenders will feel emboldened to continue their actions and remarks.
A person who is the victim of sexual harassment should never feel that s/he must come forward to report allegations. The only obligations are for those who sexually harass others to stop their behavior and for institutions to create guidelines that make sexual harassment less frequent and more seriously punished.
Shame on you, Mr. Sales. And shame on the Legislature if it doesn’t act to improve working conditions.