Editorial: Where is the accountability?


The ISD Editorial Board discusses the accusations of sexual harassment against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and ask why so few victims receive justice. 

Editorial Board

Editor’s Note: This editorial includes content regarding sexual harassment and assault.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment by Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, two of his former aides. He’s also been accused of unwanted touching at a wedding by a third woman. The matter will be thoroughly investigated and hopefully the truth revealed.

If these accusations are true, Cuomo should have resigned weeks ago when the allegations came to light. If Cuomo is innocent as he claims to be, one must wonder what it is that he’s getting away with that isn’t legally sexual harassment but is still deeply uncomfortable to these women.

That matter almost didn’t get the attention that it deserves. Cuomo originally decided to appoint Barbara Jones, a former U.S. District Court judge to investigate the matter. While that may sound good on the surface, it’s far more biased than it appears.

Imagine someone accuses you of a crime. How would you like to appoint the attorney who could eventually prosecute you? Not only that, but the person you choose doesn’t get the same powers as the attorney the police wanted to hire to prosecute you. Cuomo appointing Jones is a little bit like that.

As soon as Cuomo announced his intentions to do such, he was met with pushback. He switched course and instructed the New York attorney general to appoint a private attorney to investigate the matter. That too was met with pushback by both New York state lawmakers as well as the New York attorney general, who pointed out that is it entirely within her power to investigate the allegations pending a referral from the state’s governor.

Notice the problem with that? Cuomo would have to instruct the attorney general to investigate him. He eventually did, but the preceding three paragraphs highlight the first problem with powerful individuals being accused of crimes. They often exercise great control over the investigative and prosecutorial departments responsible for holding them accountable.

Thankfully, Cuomo did refer the matter, meaning that an outside law firm will be hired and deputized with the powers of the attorney general’s office, including subpoena power, the ability to compel a witness to testify.

Cuomo’s case will be sorted out soon enough and hopefully justice will be served. It will be tough though. It happens all too often: this investigation is likely to turn into a he-said-she-said spectacle in which case, let’s be honest, “he” wins. Enough about Cuomo though.

Let’s talk about sexual harassment and assault. Let’s talk about how awful it is to rip away someone’s control of their own body and force yourself and your control on them. Let’s talk about how traumatizing this experience can be for the victims. Let’s talk about how hard it can be to come forward and report an experience, especially with our archaic system of dealing with sexual crimes. 

When someone is sexually harassed or assaulted, their freedom is violated. The security and control we are entitled to feel in our own bodies, that basic, unalienable right, is taken away and replaced by a traumatic experience, a crime.

For some reason, we’ve dismissed the trauma of sexual harassment and assault as nonexistent. When these crimes aren’t classed as violent offenses, we forget the lasting impacts that the experience will have on the victim. When a sexual act, something that is often only performed with a close partner and is frequently an expression of love, is twisted into a vile offense, the victim can be left scarred and untrusting of future intimacy. Now the offender has not only taken the present but the future as well and in turn given the victim obstacles to overcome. 

To make matters worse, if and when the victim develops the courage to come forward, they’ll be met with skepticism and few, if any, options to pursue justice. They’ll be met with irrelevant and demonstrably false excuses. It happened too long ago to do anything. It was just an innocent “______.” Fill in the blank with anything you want. It’s all absolutely disgusting.

There’s nothing innocent about sexual harassment or assault.

We can do better. The current system of reporting sexual harassment and assault and allowing the victim to confront their abuser obviously doesn’t work. It’s even worse when we start talking specifically about powerful white men who most often commit these crimes. 

What’s stopping us from fixing this problem? Why don’t we say enough is enough? What’s wrong with our culture that we don’t have the compassion and sympathy to help these people. What does it say about your society when your leaders are openly doing as they please with no repercussions or accountability?

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or assault, know that Iowa State has resources. To speak confidentially, call 515-292-5378 or toll free at 800-203-3488. For more information, visit Iowa State’s sexual misconduct website at sexualmisconduct.dso.iastate.edu.