EDITORIAL: Cheshire legislator helps others fight sexual harassment

EDITORIAL: Cheshire legislator helps others fight sexual harassment



The world is changing. Or, to be more precise, American society is changing. It may be too early to tell just how dramatic the change will be, but something transformational is going on, and while it’s difficult and discomfiting, it’s a positive change.

Women are now coming forward to share stories, some going back decades, about inappropriate behavior, sometimes behavior that verges on the criminal, just about always behavior that is unacceptable. Women are sharing their stories in increasing numbers. Each story seems to inspire more to come forward.

As the recent exchange between President Donald Trump and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand demonstrates, it is still a battleground. The president, who is facing accusations of sexual harassment, sent out what many considered a sexually suggestive and demeaning tweet, to which the senator responded aggressively: “You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.”

The scars of sexual misconduct run deep, which is why it’s so important for victims to continue to share their experiences. In Sunday’s Record-Journal, Liz Linehan, a freshman Democratic state representative from Cheshire, shared a personal story about how sexual misconduct ruined an early career in radio. She was sexually assaulted by a coworker during a commercial break. Fighting back anger, embarrassment and tears, she reported the incident, but rather than retribution to the offender it was she who suffered punishment.

Linehan was “essentially placed on paid leave for three months before being transferred to another station, where she was then fired.”

It’s difficult to measure the trauma that comes from such an experience. Facing rumors in the state’s small radio industry, Linehan left for New York, eventually changing careers.

The sharing of her experience, and the other stories like it that are now coming out, is important for many reasons. Foremost among them is the not always obvious point that sexual misconduct is not just a violation of the moment, but something endured over time, something that can ruin careers and lifetimes. From that perspective it’s easier to understand why it’s taken some so long to share their stories.

“We need to unlearn the slut-shaming that happens,” Linehan told the Record-Journal. “We need to stand up together and, not just believe people who are accusing others, but also to say that this is a culture that we’re not going to stand for anymore.”

No significant change in society comes easily, and the nation is now wrestling with a wide array of uncomfortable stories adding up to an uncomfortable recognition, which is that for far too long women have had to endure treatment that at its most basic human level is quite simply wrong. Outrageously wrong.

Once we reach the point where we can set all that in the past, we’ll have courageous women like Liz Linehan to thank for it.

 


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