Sexual harassment, misconduct and even assault are no longer confined to the offices, homes and hotel rooms of powerful men. America’s dark secret is being exposed. Now, it needs to be confronted.

Before Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Al Franken and a growing list of others were seen in a new light, sexual harassment really wasn’t taken seriously. The behavior was dismissed as men being men or worse yet, blamed on women whose very existence tempted men who lacked self-control.

Now, however, a new viewpoint is emerging that is changing the rules of the game in the workplace — men are being held accountable. Weinstein and Lauer were dismissed by their employers. Franken was forced to announce his resignation from the U.S. Senate.

Companies and institutions are taking stronger steps to protect women in the workplace. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, which have a secret fund for sexual misconduct settlements, have voted to require sexual harassment training for their members and staffs — an important step toward protecting women in the workplace.

It is a step the South Dakota Legislature needs to take as well. In the past year, state residents have learned that female lawmakers and lobbyists have felt the pain of being victims of sexual harassment.

Sen. Angie Buhl O’Donnell, of Sioux Falls, said she had to endure comments about her breasts when Brian Gosch, of Rapid City, was the House majority leader. Gosch said he was only joking and asked for a hug. Ro Ann Redlin was a lobbyist supporting a bill that required a third person to be in a room when a woman was getting a Pap smear. She said a male lawmaker asked her to describe the procedure in detail. “I felt so dirty I wanted to take a shower,” she told the Argus Leader.

Another lobbyist, Tiffany Campbell, was discussing legislation at a bar when she said a lawmaker asked if he could watch her go to the bathroom. The next day, a female lawmaker said members of the House Republican Caucus found the incident funny. In January, a Madison lawmaker resigned after admitting to having sex with two interns, who are typically college-aged. Other allegations of groping and inappropriate touching were made by women who worked in various capacities at the Legislature.

When asked about the report, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said those who are victims of sexual harassment or misconduct should report it but added that he didn’t believe it was a problem in Pierre, S.D. Maybe that is the case, but one also has to wonder what makes the most powerful man in state government the authority on the sexual harassment of women.

The unfortunate reality is this insidious and harmful behavior will continue to exist unless steps are taken that include education and training on what constitutes sexual harassment and misconduct.

The Legislature needs to take this step in the 2018 session and then hold those accountable who persist in the behavior. It is the right thing to do, and now is the time.

— Rapid City (S.D.) Journal

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