Oprah and Hollywood women must fight abusive culture on Capitol Hill

Oprah and Hollywood women must fight abusive culture on Capitol Hill
© Getty Images

Since the revelations last year about the alleged evil sexual abuse Harvey Weinstein visited upon young women looking to make their way in the entertainment industry, men and women across the country have admired those brave enough to step forward and share their stories. On Sunday night at the Golden Globes, women across the country and the political spectrum appreciated the small gestures of solidarity with, and speeches in support of, the victims of sexual misconduct in Hollywood.

In her speech after accepting a lifetime achievement award, Oprah Winfrey spoke for women in both Hollywood and around our nation who’ve put up with systemic sexual harassment and abuse. She eloquently said, “I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They are the women whose names we’ll never know.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Unfortunately, the victims of sexual misconduct are not limited to one industry, and the vast majority of those victims do not have the same platform or star power to ensure their stories are heard and justice is delivered to those who deserve it.

 

Last year, it was also disclosed that Congress has a secret, taxpayer-funded program to deal with accusations of sexual misconduct against members of Congress or their staff. This “Office of Compliance” mandates counseling not for those accused of misconduct, but for those making accusations against powerful senators and representatives and their staffs. This office makes taxpayer-funded payments to accusers in exchange for signing confidentiality agreements. This secret program is known as the “shush fund.”

“The identities of lawmakers or their aides who reach misconduct settlements aren’t disclosed, effectively meaning there’s no warning system for other potential victims,” Politico reported last year. Many believe that Congress has an obligation to be transparent about these shush fund payments made in secret and using taxpayer funds, but so far calls for such transparency have fallen on deaf ears.

As leaders helping set the tone for proper behavior, I hope Oprah and the ladies of Hollywood won’t stop raising awareness on red carpets and under the spotlight at awards shows. I hope they will come to Washington to increase the glare and the pressure on the most powerful leaders in the country and the shush fund they created to silence women who showed the courage to come forward in our nation’s capital, just like so many women in Hollywood and other industries.

With their influence and help shining a light on the shush fund, perhaps lawmakers will also feel compelled to decry the secrecy that surrounds the congressional sexual harassment settlement process and serves to enable abusive behavior in places meant to symbolize people’s inherent worth and dignity. Rather than requiring alleged victims of sexual misconduct to undergo weeks of “training” before allowing their claims to be evaluated under a secret process, we should be calling for more comprehensive sexual harassment training in offices across Capitol Hill.

---

RELATED STORIES FROM THE HILL

---

I hope Oprah and the ladies of Hollywood will recognize and proclaim this truth: We will never eliminate the culture of abuse against women until those at the highest levels of government and their staff are publicly held accountable for their actions. We must start at the top and demand that all our lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, work to implement more transparent policies when it comes to dealing with sexual assault allegations.

Then and only then will, as Oprah said in closing her Golden Globes remarks, “a new day” really be “on the horizon” for ourselves and our daughters. Otherwise, it’s all just noise and pretty black dresses. The women who’ve gone before us, slowly building the foundation of a world in which our daughters and granddaughters stand a chance, deserve to see that day come true. Though we may never know these women’s names, we deserve to know who hurt them and who among us is perpetuating these abuses.

The shush fund must be eliminated and those for whom taxpayers financed these secret settlements should be made public. I hope Oprah and the ladies of Hollywood will come to Washington to make this happen so that any woman who goes to Washington seeking to make a difference, as it should be with any aspiring actress who goes to Hollywood, can pursue her dream confidently and without any threat of abuse by powerful men.

Jenny Beth Martin is chairman of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.