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John Conyers Jr. is Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Relieves his Seat on the Judiciary Committee

Jamal Muhammad November 27, 2017
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Powerful men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill are getting exposed.

Washington, District of Columbia — On Sunday, one well-established Black politician finally is reaping the consequences of his sexual advances towards his lady counterparts. Michigan’s Democratic Representative John Conyers Jr. has decided to step down as a ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee due to the House Ethics Committee investigating the sexual harassment allegations, according to The New York Times.

However, later that night, 12 women, who are Ms. Conyers’ co-workers, came forward in support of the 88-year-old politician. The women’s identities were not exposed.

“Our experiences with Mr. Conyers were quite different than the image of him being portrayed in the media. He was respectful and treated us as professionals,” said one of the woman.

Mr. Conyers is the longest-serving member of the House or Senate and has had a seat since the Lyndon B. Johnson era. In the early 1950’s, Mr. Conyers served in the Korean War. Then he was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as being one of the sponsors that helped Martin Luther King Jr. Day become a national holiday.

Despite his long-lasting career in politics, Mr. Conyers’ reputation and accomplishments are on the line due to his workplace behaviors.

Television talk shows invited Mr. Conyers to bring awareness and discuss how lawmakers are managing these sexual misconduct cases. According to The New York Times, sexual harassment allegations are usually deliberated behind closed doors, ending in paid settlements.

Washington Post reported that the Congress’ Office of Compliance paid out 264 settlements for the last 20 years, totaling $17.2 million in taxpayer monies.  

“All of this, as difficult as it is in some respects for our society, is really important because I think it will end up changing people’s attitudes and changing our culture. So I am glad it’s being discussed. I think it should be more transparent. I certainly think that if you accept taxpayer funds for settlement, that should be transparent,” mentioned Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman on NBC’s Meet the Press.   

An attorney that represents the women who filed complaints against Mr. Conyers–Lisa Bloom–mentioned some of her concerns regarding confidentiality agreement.

She believes that the agreement:

 

  1. prevents the victims from stating their side of the story
  2. and it allows the offender to not take responsibility for their actions.

 

According to The New York Times, Ms. Bloom wanted the 88-year-old Democratic politician to remove her clients from the agreement so they could speak freely.

Another attorney that represent women who were victims of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill–Debra Katz–expressed her sentiments towards this secrecy.

“For a number of my clients, that’s the last thing in the world they would want and could have life-altering consequences. They settled their cases to be able to move on with their lives while protecting their privacy,” said Ms. Katz in an interview on Sunday, according to The New York Times.

In a recent phone interview conducted by The New York Times, Mr. Conyers’ attorney Arnold E. Reed claimed that it took a few days for the Democratic representative to conclude that it is best for him to step down from the Judiciary Committee

During the Thanksgiving weekend, the allegations became an overwhelming burden to his family.

“He wanted time to think about this and reach a conclusion that he was comfortable with. And it was the right thing to do in his mind,” said Mr. Reed. “He is maintaining that he did not do anything wrong. He is maintaining his innocence. This is a temporary stepping aside from his position as ranking member so this can be a completely transparent and unfettered investigation.”

Last week, Buzzfeed News reported the details of Mr. Conyers’ paid settlements. In 2015, a Buzzfeed reporter also revealed documents that proved a federal employee was fired because she denied the 88-year-old sexual advances.

“I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics,” said Mrs. Conyers.

In addition previous allegations, Buzzfeed reported a second woman claiming that Mr. Conyers sexually harassed her.

As a result of the sudden increase of sexual harassment claims, Congress created a bipartisan resolution that requires all members and staff to take anti-harassment and anti-discrimination courses, according to The New York Times. But, it is still a hassle to get laws passed so that sexual misconduct cases could be handled with care.

Bipartisan politicians such as California’s Democratic Representative Jackie Speier and Virginia’s Republican Representative Barbara Comstock are fighting for legislation that would require workplace complaints to be made public, according to The New York Times. And if the Speier-Comstock Initiative applies retroactively, the identities of the victims who took settlements could be exposed.

“It was a system set up in 1995 to protect the harasser. We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are,” said Ms. Speier on ABC’s This Week.

On the other hand, making these claims public can put the victims at-risk of facing harsh scrutiny by the media or their constituents. For example, U.S. attorney and professor Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while she was his assistant in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s.

The case caught the nation’s attention and the hearings were nationally televised. Ms. Hill flooded with media outlets and Mr. Thomas’ supporters questioning her credibility. However, many years later, Mr.Thomas and his wife apologized to Ms. Hill for the pain she had to endure.

One of Mrs. Conyers’ colleagues, Maryland’s Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin (who is also a ranking member on the Judiciary Committee), agreed that the 88-year-old lawmaker should relinquish his seat to avoid more scrutiny by the media.

“He made a wise decision.” Then Mr. Raskin added, “The House is ready to clean house with respect to sexual harassment, and everybody agrees that we need to have a zero-tolerance policy.”

Lawmakers in Washington are enduring high amounts of pressure to diminish this brotherhood of secrecy regarding sexual harassment because it is unfair to the victims.   

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