(Originally posted July 2018)
When the allegation of unwanted touching, inappropriate behavior on the part of the Attorney General surfaced, the collective reaction was unrelenting. And understandable. Anyone who comes forth to report harassment in the workplace takes a huge risk. Once allegations become public, guilt or innocence can be instantaneous. Reflex judgment is subjective. Not only is the guilt of the accused debated- but is the person reporting guilty of lying? A recent column by Sheila Kennedy spoke to this in her column The Science of Stereotypes.
Journalists cannot be expected to sit on stories. Their responsibility to the public is balanced with protecting identity of accusers.. Once certain elements are released it becomes an insurmountable task to clarify them, retract them or put them in context.
So what is known about the allegations or investigation against Curtis Hill, Jr.? Very little. Actually any information came from a leaked confidential memo from a law firm. This law firm did not interview anyone but based conclusions on an investigation on a report and on interviews conducted by others. The investigations were initiated by Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Rep. Terry Goodin.(Who, incidentally are not among the several agencies trained and entrusted to investigate these serious accusations ),
Within hours of the leaked memo and reports, virtually every news item quoted the accuser, a state legislator who stated in the memo that Hill “ had reached under her clothes and grabbed her buttocks.” Not once , but twice. Three other women were interviewed ,not all felt Hill was inappropriate . None of them came forward on their own.
This memo and accusations became the driving force behind near immediate calls for Hill to resign. His behavior was described in various terms: sexual harassment, workplace harassment, unwanted physical contact, and more.
Even though the investigators felt the allegations did not warrant action, calls to resign continued until a thorough investigation could be made. Many cited he may be innocent, but the accusations put any decisions he makes as AG in a suspicious light.
Days later Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, publicly came forward in her Op-ed saying she was sexually battered by the Attorney General. She was clear Hill never reached under her clothes, and that it only happened once. Gabrielle McLemore, communications director for the Indiana Senate Democrats, did not come forward to be interviewed in her own, but felt very strongly , in her public statement. “I was trapped both physically and mentally by the state’s highest law enforcement official,” she stated,
Tony Cook of the IndyStar was one who broke the story and he asked Reardon to clarify Hill’s actions and another discrepancy. She was adamant that she had not told them Hill reached under her clothes. “It was probably a miscommunication as to how exactly the touching occurred,” she said. “My story has never changed.”
What else hasn’t changed? A week later almost all major newspapers – NPR, Washington Post, NBC include only one behavior- he reached under her clothes. No footnote about contradictions or clarifications.
Then again, which is accurate? What was Hill accused of in the initial reports? That Is not known.
Someone suggests this is nitpicking. Over clothes, underclothes, does it matter? It’s still inappropriate.
Yes it is. Inappropriate behaviors , unwanted sexual comments are to be taken seriously . This is why every employer including our State government, has sexual harassment polices in place. This is why the EEOC guidelines strongly suggest, and the State of Indiana implemented, several avenues for victims to report harassment and inappropriate behaviors. Indiana has gone as far as to outline the jurisdiction for each agency. Complaints against Legislators are handled by one agency, State officials are another agency, etc. But there is also Indiana Office of Civil Rights, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and others.
Back to those who came forward with allegations and Curtis Hill. No one is above the law, A person is innocent until proven guilty. Victim blaming and shaming have traumatic consequences. Our State has failed all those involved by not treating the allegations with the attention they deserve. A thorough and timely investigation conducted by those with training, interviewing all parties including the accused, and most of all respecting the confidential nature .
Yes this is a story that needed to be told, this is why we need bold journalists to support those who risk coming forward.
The personal price is high- the politics? Shameful.