A story in today’s New York Times offers a disturbing look at the smear tactics and threats the Cain campaign is using to intimidate the four women accusing the candidate of sexual harassment, and any women that might come forward in the future:
L. Lin Wood, the lawyer hired by the Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to fend off sexual harassment accusations, has warned that any other women who might be considering coming forward with similar allegations “should think twice.”
On Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after Karen Kraushaar identified herself as one of two women who had received monetary settlements relating to harassment allegations against Mr. Cain while working for the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, Ms. Kraushaar faced questions about a workplace complaint she filed at a subsequent job… Hours later, Rush Limbaugh seized on that report to argue that Ms. Kraushaar has “a pattern of whining.” [...]
[S]he and the others confronted the challenges of taking on a presidential candidate: intensive scrutiny of their backgrounds and motives, encouraged and amplified in this case by conservative news outlets and commentators whose support for Mr. Cain as he battles the allegations has helped him weather the crisis so far.
Cain and his defenders aren’t bothering to conceal their intention to silence would-be accusers with bullying. The campaign has hired investigators to dig up dirt on the women. Many respected media outlets are becoming willing accomplices in the diversion of questioning the alleged victims rather than investigating Cain’s conduct.
The insulting assumption behind the AP’s decision to investigate and report on Kraushaar’s past in the first place is, of course, that her credibility is diminished because she had problems with another employer. Besides the fact that the other complaint had nothing to do with sexual harassment, it’s also absurd to think that the same woman couldn’t experience hostile situations in two workplaces.
According to one report, one in ten women in the workplace will at some point be “promised promotion or better treatment if they [are] ‘sexually cooperative‘” with a co-worker or supervisor. Kraushaar didn’t want to come forward but was publicly outed against her will. Instead of becoming a passive voice in the media maelstorm, she chose to accept the situation and tell her story.
Sharon Bialeck, the first woman to go public with her accusation, also had every detail of her past and financial history picked over — nevermind that she has shown no intention of suing Cain for money. During a press conference this week, Cain said he couldn’t remember meeting Bialeck, yet called her “troubled,” out for money, and part of a “Democrat machine” out to destroy him. Bialeck and Kraushaar are both registered Republicans. Fully aware of the attacks they would face, they say they spoke out because they felt compelled to inform Americans about a leading presidential candidate’s actions and character.
Conservatives’ knee-jerk reaction has been to blame the women before learning anything about them. Republicans have suggested that what Cain allegedly did wasn’t so bad, that sexual harassment doesn’t even exist or is only, in Rush Limbaugh’s words, “a political tool of the left to get rid of people, or to score money gains.” A New York Post columnist called Bialek a “gold digger” who “flirted like a tart” with Cain.
Sadly, the smear campaign Cain’s accusers are facing is exactly the reason many women don’t report incidents of rape or harassment. They fear they won’t be believed or taken seriously, and may well suffer retribution for filing complaints. That message is only reinforced for women watching the persecution of Cain’s accusers, who may conclude that reporting assaults is not worth the risk of public shaming.
Rape and sexual assault are two of the most under-reported crimes, with fully 60 percent of cases not reported to police. Women know that if they press charges or go public, they may be called “sluts” and have their sexual pasts used against them — which is why many states have rape shield laws to protect victims from having irrelevant facts jeopardize their ability to get a fair hearing.
The Cain campaign’s deplorable tactics are already having their desired affect: Kraushaar told friends that all the scrutiny might keep the other women from speaking out with her.