Congress must end non-disclosure and hush money for sexual offenders

After the revelation in October of multiple cases of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October, the dominos have been falling as more men in entertainment, media, and politics across the U.S. have faced allegations ranging from inappropriate behavior to forced sexual misconduct to rape, and more women (and in some cases men) are stepping forward.

While sex offender scandals are not a new phenomenon, the accusations against Weinstein opened a floodgate and opened a conversation about coming forward about sexual misconduct, including the #MeToo movement which encouraged women to post on social media if they had been subject to sexual harassment or assault.

For too long we have stood silently in regard to the magnitude of harassment and assault in Hollywood and Washington. Due to non-disclosure, the underrepporting of assault claims, fears of whistleblowing and facing the monied predators, the flood gates are finally opening to change the conversation regarding the issue.

The Dominos Fall in Hollywood

According to ABC News which created an incomplete list of some of the allegations so far, more than 22 people in the entertainment industry including names like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, Steven Seagall, George Takei have had allegations come up against them, some recent, and some going back decades. 

Yesterday, Pixar co-founder John Lasseter took a leave of absence over ‘missteps’ with employees and acknowledging that he made some employees feel disrespected and uncomfortable.

Allegations of misconduct in Congress, Politicians

But the allegations are not just limited to the entertainment industry. This week Senator Al Franken was accused of forcibly kissing a woman during a 2006 USO tour rehearsal and was photographed groping her as she slept. While Franken has apologized, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has called for an investigation into Franken.

U.S. Senate Candidate Roy Moore of Alabama was also accused of assaulting two women when they were teenagers, and half-dozen other women have accused Moore of inappropriate conduct. Today, senior campaign advisor Brett Dolster told CNN that Moore’s communication director John Rogers has resigned.

According to Dolster, Rogers “didn’t have the experience to deal with the level of scrutiny brought on by the national press, and the campaign had to make a change.”

Former president George H.W. Bush was accused of patting seven women below the waist. Bush apologized and repeated apologies to “anyone who he has offended”.

Other cases have involved Florida Democratic party chairman Stephen Bittel who is accused of making inappropriate comments, Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens who resigned after having an affair with a lobbyist, and Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala who is being investigated over allegations of harrassment and groping.

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover stepped down as speaker this month after a sexual harassment claim surfaced from a caucus staffer. He denies the claims but remains in the legislature.

Hush Money Paid to Cover up cases

Many times non-disclosure agreements and private settlements prevent cases of harassment from making it to the public record.

According to an interview with Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, “the Congressional Office of Compliance estimates that between 1997 and 2014, hundreds of women have been paid $15.2 million in total in awards and settlements for Capitol Hill workplace violations.”

This Monday an explosive report from BuzzFeed detailed how John Conyers, a Michigan democrat agreed to a settlement of more than $27,000 after a woman filed a complaint saying Conyers had fired her for rejecting his sexual advances. Conyers is Congress’s longest-serving member, is the dean of the House of Representatives and is an example of entrenched male power in congress. 

According to the Atlantic

the story shows how members (or their aides) can quietly hide payments to accusers, helping to cover up allegations and the cost to taxpayers of settling them. Typically, confidential payments are made from a special U.S. Treasury fund established for the purpose. The Washington Post reported, “Between 1997 and 2014, the U.S. Treasury has paid $15.2 million in 235 awards and settlements for Capitol Hill workplace violations, according to the congressional Office of Compliance. The statistics do not break down the exact nature of the violations.”

 

Republican Representative Ken Buck offered an amendment to H.R 1, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act prohibiting tax subsidies for legal settlements related to sexual assault or harassment which would limit the ability of businesses to pay hush money for cases of sexual harrassment and assault.

According to Buck,

“Every day brings new revelations of the pervasiveness of the moral rot within Hollywood and the entertainment industry,” Buck writes in his call for a specific ban of settlement write-offs.

“For years, Hollywood has turned a blind eye to sexual abuse and harassment. Congress must not,” Buck Tweeted Wednesday.

 

Rectifying the Situation

For too long those entrenched in power have abused their privilege and in some cases on the taxpayer’s dime to protect predators and perverts from scrutiny.

We must end all hush funds, non-disclosure agreements, and other protections for the perverts and creeps of Hollywood, Washington, and elsewhere in the media and politics. We need a public list of politicians who have committed sexual assaults or harassment. 

We can no longer stand for a lack of character in those who produce the content we consume, the characters we watch, and especially those who are supposed to represent us in Government. 

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