OPINION: Investigate sexual harassment allegations before convicting the accused

FILE – In this July 12, 2017 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In the past few months, an avalanche of people have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. This is a positive thing, but our society has not always handled these accusations well. In most cases, the immediate response has been to destroy the career and reputations of the accused based on allegations alone and not on any court verdict or results of investigations.

I have always considered myself a feminist and a strong supporter of victims of sexual misconduct. Everyone should feel able and free to speak up when they are assaulted or harassed. The current “Me Too” movement and push to call out sexual misconduct is a positive thing and I hope it continues.

However, I also believe in due process of law. Sexual assault, harassment, and any type of sexual misconduct is a crime just like any other. Anyone accused of these crimes deserves their day in court just like someone who was accused of a different crime does.

Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation recently after being accused of multiple cases of sexual misconduct, although he maintains his innocence of the accusations.

In his public apology statement, Franken said, “While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences. I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”

I do not know if Franken is innocent or guilty. Nobody knows if he is innocent or guilty because there has been no investigation into the accusations. He stands accused of crimes, and he maintains his innocence of these crimes. However, he lost his job and most likely any future career in politics.

The onslaught of additional accusations before the ethics investigation could take place meant that there was a massive wave of people calling for Franken’s resignation. Many Democratic senators wanted to give the impression that they were holding their own party member just as accountable as they would a Republican counterpart.

President Trump currently is accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to assault, by at least 19 women. Obviously, there are a range of responses from the public on the matter, from people calling for his resignation to a request for investigations. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for a Congressional investigation.

“President Trump should resign,” Gillibrand said in a Facebook post. “But, of course, he won’t hold himself accountable. Therefore, Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.”

However, in Franken’s case, Gillibrand requested he step down immediately instead of waiting for the results of an investigation.

“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” Gillibrand wrote in a different Facebook post.

This is hypocrisy. Trump has denied any wrongdoing, just as Al Franken denied TommieMedia Opinionsany wrongdoing. Both men stand accused of crimes, and both men should be investigated fairly and punished accordingly. As two elected officials, both should be subject to ethics investigations and then removed from office if found guilty of the crimes accused.

Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson defended Franken’s right to an investigation in a post on his personal blog.

“Being a victim can be painful but the answer to an injustice cannot be to create another injustice,” Carlson said. “I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process.”

We need to create a culture in which anyone can speak up when faced with sexual assault or harassment. Along with that, we need a culture in which all allegations are taken seriously and evaluated fairly and legally. Careers should not be lost because only one side of the story is heard. Both sides deserve to be heard equally. Justice is not served through public opinion, justice is served in a court of law through due process.

Solveig Rennan can be reached at renn6664@stthomas.edu.

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