By editorial board • 

Women deserve freedom from unwanted workplace advances

What trait does Oregon State Sen. Jeff Kruse, Republican from Roseburg, share with Clarence Thomas, Bob Packwood, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, David Letterman, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein?

He allegedly used the power of his high office to foist unwanted sexual advances onto women, apparently assuming they would be loath to suffer the onslaught of recrimination that engulfed Anita Hill when she pioneered victim whistleblowing in 1991. Someone finally had their fill and called him out, triggering action in response.

A brief history might be useful.

In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a racist congressmen managed to get Title VII inserted, barring workplace discrimination on the basis of gender. His motivation was not granting black women any power withheld from white women.

And there it languished until the 1970s, when a budding women’s rights movement, taking a cue from the civil rights movement arising in the ‘60s, began to challenge what Time Magazine called “a justice system that failed to recognize women’s consent.”

The term “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975 by aggrieved Cornell University employees, as they rallied around one of their own under the banner Working Women United. It caught fire after The New York Times used it in the headline of a groundbreaking analysis.

In 1977, three judges ruled women were entitled to present sexual harassment cases to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII, and their rulings were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The following year, Oregon became the first state to ever try a man for spousal rape, but the jury acquitted him.

In 1991, Hill took the unprecedented step of coming forward when Congress held hearings on the appointment of Thomas to the Supreme Court. But 26 years later, Thomas continues to serve a government now headed by Trump, an egregious serial violator in his own right.

It’s hard to understand — given all the powerful men publicly confronted in government, media, entertainment, athletic and corporate circles in recent years — how sexual harassment could continue to run so rampant. But it doesn’t take the viral “me too” movement of recent days to demonstrate the persistence of this ugly virus.

In fiscal 2016-17, the EEOC fielded 7,000 complaints. And it estimates only one of every four victims comes forward.

Have we made progress over the last half century? Yes, but not nearly enough. We need to adopt sanctions making this crime simply too painful to perpetrate.

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