#MeToo and Congress
On March 11, I was scrolling through the news and saw a headline from Politico that gave me pause: “Former Gillibrand aide resigned in protest over handling of sex harassment claims.”
I reread the headline to make sure I understood correctly. Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator from New York and Democratic candidate for President in 2020, is one of the most outspoken advocates of the #MeToo movement in Congress. Many consider her to be the leader of the charge in outing former Sen. Al Franken after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. Gillibrand has also been outspoken over the years in addressing the problem of sexual assault in the U.S. military.
Gillibrand’s former staffer, who spoke with Politico anonymously, described being subjected to inappropriate comments from another employee, Abbas Malik, who was married and 10 years her senior, in July 2018. Some of these comments included multiple texts messages that the woman provided to Politico.
The woman told Politico, “When I had the courage to speak up about my harasser, I was belittled by her office and treated like an inconvenience.” Even more damning, Gillibrand’s office investigated the staffer’s complaint themselves rather than hiring an independent investigator, a practice Gillibrand has often criticized the military for.
Gillibrand’s office dismissed Malik last week, after Politico reached out to her office and presented their own findings of misconduct against Malik.
This handling of sexual misconduct within Gillibrand’s office notably does not match her own public persona. Gillibrand recently posted on Twitter, “I’m in this fight to be a president who stands with women.” Did she mean for this statement to exclude her own female employees?
As someone who’s experienced workplace sexual harassment myself, I frequently find myself wary of public figures who seemingly use the #MeToo movement to promote themselves without doing anything to actually help victims. Gillibrand’s actions seem to indicate that while she was aggressive about addressing harassment in the military and other workplaces in her public statements, she was perfectly willing to turn the other way when it came to her own office.
This revelation likely won’t bode well in the 2020 race, but, more importantly, Gillibrand’s status as an advocate for women is likely permanently damaged.