Too Little, Too Late?

Will 2018 be the session in which the Vermont senate finally takes meaningful action toward addressing sexual harassment?  We’ll see.

‘“There’s a different weight to it this year in light of all that’s been going on around us,” (Senator Tim) Ashe said of the new policies, referring to national stories of sexual harassment.’

It’s too little too late to help one young girl who, reluctantly and under oath, provided compelling testimony of her alleged sexual exploitation by then-senator Norm McAllister. The victim had the misfortune of stepping forward just a couple of years before our porcine president and the “Me too!” movement catapulted the dirty secret of sexual assault by powerful men to national attention.

We’re talking about a slip of a girl, just a teenager at the time she served as Mr. McAllister’s unofficial intern at the statehouse, who came from a low-income rural background, asking for a state senator to be held accountable for abusing her.

She relied on law enforcement and the states attorney who persuaded her to testify, to provide the credibility for her complaint that her own social inferiority denied her. Had she hailed from the hill section of St. Albans with gold-plated parentage, I rather doubt her case would have been dropped by the state’s attorney after she fibbed, out of shame and the growing realization that her behavior, not McAllister’s was on trial, about a kiss with a lad who was not her boyfriend.

She left that courtroom completely broken, and we haven’t heard from her since.

The next female who dared complain about the sexual mistreatment she received from McAllister once again sat alone in the courtroom as her own past relationships and financial hardships were used as a cudgel to reduce her credibility before the jury who accepted the argument that a decent family man and senator like McAllister simply wouldn’t do the things of which she accused him. If he had, it must have been consensual; as if any woman can actually “consent” to sexual exploitation by a man who wields the power to deprive her of heat and a place to live.

A third accuser conveniently died before the alleged assaults were brought to trial.

After it was all over but the weeping, McAllister faced conviction on only one count of procurement for the purpose of prostitution, and as far as I know has yet to be sentenced.

I have serious doubts that the procedures now in place for dealing with sexual harassment in the senate would have prevented that teenager’s secret exploitation in Montpelier; or any of the other brutalities Mr. McAllister actually discussed in recorded conversations with the other two complainants.

I suppose it’s pointless to wonder if the outcome of Mr. McAllister’s brush with justice might have been different had it taken place now; but I would urge the legislature to consider well that persons of low status usually suffer the greatest indignities, and a sexual harassment policy that is ineffective at protecting the very young and the timid
won’t be worth the paper its printed on.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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