FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: MELINDA SHELTON, 767; DIANE MINOR, x773
When the case involving accusations of sexual harassment against the most powerful man in the country goes before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, activists from the nation's most powerful feminist organization will be watching closely. At a time when daily headlines are still full of stories about powerful men using sexual harassment to intimidate women, we're still very concerned that Jones' charges be taken seriously.
In 1994 NOW distributed a statement outlining principles the organization still stands by. It read, in part: "We know that sexual harassers are everywhere -- in high public positions, in executive suites and even in pulpits. In fact, powerful men may be more likely to harass women because some of these men treat harassment as a fringe benefit, a privilege of power. Every Paula Jones deserves to be heard, no matter how old she is and how long ago the incident occurred, no matter what kind of accent she has or how much money she makes, and no matter who she associates with."
However, Paula Jones picked her forum and she picked her friends. The forum Jones chose is federal court, and her case has been working its way through the system. The issue before the Supreme Court now is not should Paula Jones be heard -- even though Newsweek's cover story frames it that way -- but rather when should she be heard.
Since Jones is guaranteed her day in court, NOW will not rally public support for her until NOW leaders have the kind of information they have had in similar cases. We protested in favor of open Senate hearings, but didn't put on our `I believe Anita Hill' buttons until we had seen and heard both Hill and Clarence Thomas testify under oath. And we didn't hold protests on Bob Packwood until many women had come forward to accuse him, and only after they sat down with us face-to-face to review their evidence.
NOW will not be rushed to judgment in this case by what may well be right-wing attempts to undermine us. Whether intentionally or inadvertently setting NOW up for criticism, Jones declined to talk with NOW President Patricia Ireland, but instead aligned herself with Pat Robertson, right wing publicist Floyd Brown and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry. Ireland agreed to a conference call with Paula Jones, and even offered to fly out to California at NOW's expense to meet with her, but she seemed to dismiss Ireland's availability rather disdainfully. NOW leaders talked with Jones' attorneys, but they never asked for NOW's assistance. We wouldn't force ourselves on an unwilling plaintiff anymore than any man should force himself on a woman.
NOW's positions on the three 1990s cases involving allegations of sexual harassment against top public officials are not based on partisan politics. Feminist principles trump practical politics, and we have not pulled any punches -- not even against our erstwhile allies. We protested at the White House when President Clinton said he would sign the welfare repeal bill, warning that many of our activists would not work on his re-election if he did. And we called for the resignation of a strong abortion-rights backer like Packwood at a time when we needed every vote we could get in the U.S. Senate.
NOW took a lead role among other women's rights and progressive groups in both of those instances and -- if the facts merit it -- may ultimately play the same role in the Jones case.
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