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Posted with permission from Tribune Content AgencyRepublish
ReprintThanks to the president of the United States, we have now seen the structural support system that allows workplace sexual harassment to persist, writ large.And it is sickening.Responding last week to a New York Times report that Fox News and host Bill O'Reilly have settled five cases with women who claimed he sexually harassed them — with payouts totaling about $13 million — President Donald Trump cavalierly said: "I don't think Bill did anything wrong. I think he's a person I know well — he is a good person."Trump has no evidence to support his assertion that O'Reilly did nothing wrong, unless he happened to be in the room at the moment of each alleged incident.And, more importantly, the president has zero credibility on this issue.In a 2005 recording released during the presidential campaign, Trump told "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush how he uses his star power on women: "You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab 'em by the (expletive). You can do anything."Trump's rise to the presidency was a clear enough example that such views on the sexual assault or harassment of women are no barrier to the highest office in the land.But now we have this: A president who previously bragged on tape to groping women is defending a man repeatedly accused of sexual harassment who's losing sponsors hand over fist on a network whose then-CEO — Roger Ailes — stepped down last summer following repeated accusations of sexual harassment.And who was there last summer to defend Ailes? Donald Trump.Both O'Reilly and Ailes have denied the sexual harassment charges, and Trump has denied a variety of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, defending the comments he made to Bush as "locker room talk."But what message is sent to women in the workplace when three powerful men — one the most powerful in the country — prop each other up while largely ignoring the issue at hand? It's the old boys club writ large."Everything that has happened in the last week is reinforcing a message that sexual harassment isn't taken seriously, that serial harassers will be protected, and that powerful people can do whatever they want without consequences," said Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality at the National Women's Law Center, a women's rights advocacy group in Washington. "If you're a victim and want to report, there will be serious negative consequences for your job and your career. It's essentially saying that putting up with sexual harassment is the price that women have to pay for keeping a job."The defense used by Trump, O'Reilly and Ailes — and the routine pushback on sexual harassment allegations by those who think sexual harassment is some kind of workplace myth — is that high-profile men are targeted by female colleagues looking to cash in. Setting aside the inherent sexism behind that argument, it's also an absurd one, considering the risks women take when they file a sexual harassment claim. "Victims of sexual harassment are between a rock and a hard place," Raghu said. "Either they don't come forward and they have to live with the harassment because they're afraid to lose their jobs or they come forward and people attack them or accuse them of lying. They're called troublemakers; they may be blackballed in their industry. It has implications for not just their jobs but their careers and their future job potential. It's not something people do lightly."And that's what makes workplace harassment so difficult to eradicate: Victims are hesitant to step forward; harassers know that and become confident they can harass people without consequence.What makes Trump's decision to speak out in support of O'Reilly so troubling is that he didn't need to say anything. Why is a president weighing in on a media personality's legal issues?Again, it's the old boys club. Trump and O'Reilly have been pals for years. Same with Trump and Ailes.And that means that in making the decision to put the weight of the presidency behind his support for O'Reilly, Trump never for a moment thought about women or how his comments might affect workers facing sexual harassment.And that, my friends, is why sexual harassment persists. Powerful men — unconcerned with how any of their actions might affect women — circle the wagons and protect each other, while victims risk their reputations and fight myriad obstacles to be heard."The fact that this is all coming to light at the beginning of the month, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, makes it that much worse," Raghu said. "It sends this message that nothing's changed after all these years."A lot still needs to change, and it's up to company leaders to be champions of strong policies that forbid harassment and encourage victims to report without fear of retaliation.Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated. Or excused. Or defended.Don't let the president's 1960s mindset fool you.It's 2017. We have to do better.———ABOUT THE WRITERRex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.