The national conversation on sexual harassment and assault reached a tipping point on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers began facing serious consequences for their alleged behavior.
The week was bookended by revelations and resignations. Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas said he would pay back some $84,000 in taxpayer funds that were used to settle a sexual harassment claim levied against him in 2014.
Two Democratic members accused of misconduct announced they were stepping away from their posts: Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who retired on Tuesday, and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who announced he would be resigning from the Senate in a defiant speech on Thursday. Later that day, Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, also announced he will resign. Franks said in a statement that he had discussed surrogacy with former members of his staff just as the House Ethics Committee announced it would investigate whether that constitutes sexual harassment.
In a way, with the departure of these powerful men, the stories of women and men who have accused powerful men of sexual harassment and assault were validated.
“For so long, women who were abused didn’t feel like they could say anything because they thought they’d get fired, they thought nobody would believe them, they thought they’d get trashed or pushed aside,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat of Virginia, said on Thursday. “I think we’ve crossed a Rubicon where people believe they can say stuff and there will be folks who support them.”
The moment of reckoning reached a fever pitch on Wednesday when over two dozen of Franken’s colleagues, led by a group of Democratic women, called on him to step down. That same day, two women had come forward with allegations that Franken groped or tried to forcibly kiss them. With that, many of his colleagues felt that enough was enough: it was time for him to go.
“I believe it would be better…