In recent weeks a glut of sexual harassment allegations have toppled prominent politicians, journalists and entertainers. Some have cried foul purporting that the lack of due process made the ousting of the accused offenders—whether self-imposed or industry-imposed—unfair.
Today, 54-year old Andrea Ramsey, Democratic congressional candidate from Kansas, dropped out of her bid for office when sexual harassment accusations against her came to the forefront. In her announcement, she told the Kansas City Star, “In its rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance standard. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee's false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process." Note: Ramsey had not, in fact, yet received DCCC endorsement.
To paraphrase Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, “The lady [and men accused and their defenders, from both genders] doth protest too much, methinks.” Here’s why. First of all there has been no due process because there is no due process that’s ever been put in place for sexual harassment. That’s how normalized it had become in our culture. It is a criminal act that has never been criminalized.
Ah, yes, there are different levels of the behavior and it seems unfair that everyone is judged and dispatched with equally when accused. Once again, a result from failing to criminalize this aberrant behavior and create legal levels like we do for so many other crimes: first degree, second degree, misdemeanor, and felony. So everyone accused is being painted with the same broad brush.
This all happened because too many thought their harassing behavior was okay because those who said their misbehavior really wasn’t okay either weren’t listened to or believed. For too long, there was little legal protection for the accusers and now we’re seeing there’s little for the accused. Rough justice is how the now-former candidate Ramsey describes it. She’s right. That’s what can happen with a lack of legislative intervention. She also characterizes rough justice as part of this national moment. She’s wrong. When it comes to sexual harassment, rough justice has been around for longer than she’s been alive. It’s just that, in this moment, different people are experiencing it.