Truth should not be held hostage to political calculations

Truth should not be held hostage to political calculations
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It is troubling to watch the morality drama play out involving Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE, who is accused of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place decades ago when he was in high school. Fueled by the desire of Democrats to delay his confirmation vote and the gale-force winds of the #MeToo movement, Judge Kavanaugh’s character and conduct is under a public microscope because of these allegations.  

Many prominent men recently have lost their jobs and careers because of accusations — and in many cases, because of actual evidence — of mistreatment and abuse. From corporate titans to media moguls to politicians, no one is immune and the list continues to grow. When men engage in aggressive and abusive behavior towards women, they should pay the price for their misdeeds.

However, accusations do not equal guilt.

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I have had experiences on both sides of this issue. Perhaps some of the steps taken in my situation could serve as a guide as our country navigates this new age of political theater and the #MeToo movement.

In the late 1970s, I was working as a mid-level program director for a major nonprofit at its headquarters in New York City. I supervised a small staff that oversaw administration of its Justice Division. The organization employed a large pool of temporary secretaries, and one day one of these young women asked if she could see me. I did not know her very well; we just occasionally exchanged pleasantries as we passed one another.

In my office, she sat down and began to weep uncontrollably. In a halting, wavering voice, she explained that for five or six months she had been having a sexual affair with one of the men in the executive offices. As a Muslim and a single mother, sleeping with a married man was weighing on her conscience and she told him she wanted to end the relationship. He responded with anger, threatening to withhold her pay and make it difficult to continue to work within the organization.

My heart went out to her. I believed her, and helped her make arrangements to preserve her employment, which she desperately needed, in a position away from the individual she claimed was threatening her. She was not asking that someone be fired, but rather that she be able to maintain her employment when it had been threatened by a person with a personal, and possibly violent, grudge.  

Within a few months I had left that position and moved to Washington, D.C., as a resident fellow for a well-known conservative think tank. It was at this new place that I was on the receiving end of a sexual allegation.

After receiving a grant award to hire professional staff to work on a policy project, I hired a young man, and a few months later, a young woman. As was my practice, I invited new staff to accompany me to a congressional reception on Capitol Hill to meet some of the congressional staff with whom we would be working. At the end of the evening I drove the young woman to retrieve her car near the office. She invited me to join her for a drink at her apartment. I declined, noting it was late and said I had to get home. When I got home, I shared the young woman’s offer with my wife and, the next day, with the young male staffer so he would be aware as he interacted with this young woman.

About six months later, I terminated her because of poor performance but released her under circumstances that would allow her to collect unemployment insurance. And within two weeks, my doubts and misgivings about this young woman were realized.

The day after I terminated her, I arrived at work and was told to report to the office of the president, where I was greeted by our general counsel. They told me the young lady in question claimed she was let go because of her refusal to submit to my sexual advances. Both men told me they wanted to reach an out-of-court settlement with her. I told both of them that under no circumstances would I agree to this arrangement, because she was lying.

She had signed a government document that permitted her to receive unemployment, which meant she was either lying about her unemployment claim or about her accusations against me. I walked out of the room. When they told her lawyer the decision, we never heard from them again.

In my many years on this earth, I have witnessed women being treated as objects by their male co-workers and supervisors. I am inclined to believe women when they come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault or rape in the workplace. However, because of my experience as a wrongly accused party, I am equally as likely to believe men when they claim innocence when accused of heinous acts. Both men and women are capable of leveling false but damaging allegations.

In all of these situations, we as a society need to encourage those involved in these conflicts to speak the truth, regardless of the consequences. The truth must never be held hostage to political calculations. When truth becomes the real victim, everyone involved loses.

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.