US Courts Crackdown On Sexual Predators — Without Talking To Victims

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The judicial branch of the government aims to fight its sexual harassment pandemic, yet has never interviewed a sexually abused court employee.

Chuck Grassley

The judicial branch of the government has a rather interesting take on combating sexual harassment within federal courts.

James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the agency that administers the federal courts, shared his working group’s recommendations on how to battle sexual harassment with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The recommendations include establishing a hotline for staff to seek counseling, clarifying the process for filing complaints and identifying sexual harassment complaints as a separate category. There is just one problem: the working group never interviewed any court employees who may have experienced sexual harassment neither does it have any law clerks as representative.

Duff’s attempt at fighting sexual harassment within the judicial branch came after a high-flying federal judge, Alex Kozinski, announced his retirement amid allegations of lewd comments and appropriate touching by at least 15 women.

An associate at Goodwin Procter and former law clerk to two federal judges Jaime Santos said the judiciary does not understand the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment.

“The working group’s report is entirely forward-looking,” she said. “You can’t solve a problem if you haven’t studied its scope. Employees are not going to feel comfortable coming forward to report harassment when the judiciary has expressed no willingness to study even the egregious allegations that led to the working group’s formation.”

After sexual allegations against Kozinski made headlines, Santos arranged for a letter signed by at least 650 former and current law clerks, pushing for an anonymous national reporting center for sexual harassment, accessible to court employees.

According to Santos, the pandemic of sexual harassment is not limited to just Hollywood. Personal accounts of law clerks and court employees suggest it is happening in federal courts and often.

“Some shared stories about being asked sexual questions during job interviews, hearing their judge or co-clerks speak about female attorneys in derogatory and objectifying terms, and being groped or kissed in public and in private,” she said. “Many knew of other law clerks or employees who had been subjected to harassing or abusive behavior in chambers as well.”

However, it appears Duff already knows his working group does not provide the in-depth picture of sexual harassment taking place at the federal courts, yet maintains he is working towards trying to eliminate it. But he does not believe sexual harassment in the judicial branch “ranks very high” as opposed to other professions.

Santos does not believe that.

“I don’t think the judiciary has any idea,” she said. “We’re recommending a survey to find out what harassment or abusive behavior they’ve witnessed. The statement that this isn’t pervasive is just a guess.”

Despite the rampant rise of the #MeToo movement, sadly, many senators were surprised sexual harassment could exist within federal courts. Despite the fact, the courts, much like Hollywood, are run by strong, powerful men.

“Of all places, you wouldn’t think it would happen in the judicial branch of government,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman.

“What is really surprising to me is that the problem exists in the federal judiciary,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Women, all over the world, have found a new voice in the form of the #MeToo movement, yet ignorant comments like these, from high-profile officials show how difficult it is, still, for an abuse victim to get justice, when the society does not want to accept that sexual harassment is, in fact, a prevalent epidemic. It has been for years.

Maybe it is time, the working group took a broader outlook at the problem in federal courts, rather than declaring there are not “enough” sexual harassment complaints for an elaborated effort.

Banner / Thumbnail : REUTERS / Al Drago

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