We have another useful lesson for ethics and compliance officers today from the world of politics: a small but telling glimpse into how men misinterpret the #MeToo movement and stifle attempts to speak up about sexual harassment.
This example comes courtesy of Kevin Cramer, Republican congressman from North Dakota. Cramer is now running for Senate against Heidi Heitkamp, the incumbent Democrat who may well lose her seat to Cramer next month. Earlier this week Cramer was preening to the New York Times about how he speaks his mind even on controversial subjects.
OK, the New York Times asked, could we have an example? Cramer then said this about women stepping forward to say they have been sexually assaulted:
“That you’re just supposed to believe somebody because they said it happened,” Cramer said, alluding to Christine Blasey Ford — who has accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers — and, more broadly, women who have come forward to claim that they were sexually abused or assaulted.
Invoking his wife, daughters, mother and mother-in-law, Cramer said: “They cannot understand this movement toward victimization. They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.”
Of course that’s stupid, even by the low standards of Republican congressmen. The telling part is why it’s stupid — how Cramer, if he’s to be taken seriously, doesn’t grasp what women complaining about harassment are trying to do. Corporate executives would do well not to fall into the same trap.
The clue is Cramer’s phrase, “this movement toward victimization.” He is trying to paint sexual assault as something that confers a special status, and that status entitles victims of assault to special privileges, so one must always suspect that a woman raising allegations of harassment or assault is simply grasping for that special status under false pretenses.
After all, victims have suffered a loss. The word literally means “a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency.” When one person suffers a loss at the hands of another, society is supposed to try to make the victim whole.
So in Cramer’s world — where “you’re just supposed to believe somebody because they said it happened” — women who raise allegations of harassment and assault are looking for a handout. In Cramer’s world, women declare themselves as victims because they want something for themselves.
That’s baloney, of course.
#MeToo Is About Accountability
Women raise allegations of harassment and assault not as an act of self-interest, but to hold others accountable. Speaking up isn’t the wimpy act of someone looking for a gimme, as Cramer implies. It’s an act of courage, because far too often, speaking up costs the accuser plenty.
Christine Blasey Ford had to flee her home once she spoke up. She has received death threats and her own Wikipedia page, which now consigns her to history as the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of assault. Every other accomplishment in Ford’s life, both personal and professional, will forever be subordinate to this chapter of her life.
In Cramer’s world, women declare themselves as victims because they want something for themselves. That’s baloney, of course.
That’s not claiming victim status as an act of self-interest. That’s enduring victim status in the name of trying to hold people accountable — and that’s the point ethics and compliance officers should make constantly about #MeToo allegations, if we’re at all serious that holding people accountable for misconduct is something worth doing.
Should claims of harassment and assault be investigated thoroughly? Of course. Ford (and Kavanaugh’s other accusers) all asked for a thorough investigation. It’s a shame the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans didn’t allow one. None of Kavanaugh’s accusers expected others to believe them just because they said so — an important point that Cramer ignored in his quest to say something stupid and then be pleased that he said it.
Regardless, the point holds: Cramer’s dim grasp of sexual assault allegations is exactly the wrong way for businesses to perceive the issue. Study his words and then do the opposite, because pretty much every one of his words is wrong.