Have we learned anything in the 25 years since U.S. Sen. Brock Adams was outed as a serial abuser of women?
I read the stories about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation with a profound sense of déjà vu. Even after 25 years, I realized, little has changed.
Back in 1992, The Seattle Times published stories, reported and written by me and three Times colleagues, in which eight women accused U.S. Sen Brock Adams of sexually harassing, molesting or assaulting them.
Adams — like Weinstein a liberal and supporter of feminist causes — denied the allegations but dropped his campaign for re-election the day the stories appeared.
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The articles were the culmination of a 3 ½-year investigation that began when Kari Tupper, a former congressional aide, publicly accused Adams of drugging and molesting her. Adams denied that allegation, too, but calls soon began coming into the newsroom — mostly from women, many refusing to give their names.
They believed Tupper, they said. Adams had done something similar to them, or they knew of someone who had been victimized by him.
My colleagues David Boardman, Susan Gilmore and Eric Nalder and I spent years tracking down Adams’ victims, gaining their trust and persuading them to tell us their stories for publication. All spoke reluctantly, many of them tearfully, all of them fearfully.
The stories Weinstein’s victims tell sound depressingly similar. So do the dynamics that permit such abuse to persist.
For instance: Adams, like Weinstein, was protected by what the New Yorker’s Weinstein piece calls a “culture of complicity.” Adams’ abusive behavior toward women, like Weinstein’s, was no secret in the workplace or in political circles. “We called it ‘Brock’s problem,’ ” his longtime secretary, herself a victim, told us.
But his associates did little or nothing about it, sometimes even casting responsibility on the women. “Maybe you should get a suit of armor,” one victim said she was told.
Some close to Adams waged a behind-the-scenes smear campaign against Tupper. As our investigation progressed they reached out to other victims, imploring them to maintain their silence.
Adams’ victims, like Weinstein’s, had been afraid to speak out when the abuse happened. Adams was their boss, or someone who might make or break their careers. He was powerful; they weren’t.
“I felt people would question me — they’d think I’m the one that did something wrong,” one woman told us.
Even years later, the eight women, fearful of retaliation, wouldn’t allow us to name them in print. They did sign statements saying they were telling the truth, and agreeing to let The Times identify them should Adams sue (he didn’t) and a judge order us to reveal our sources.
Being publicly identified “would have destroyed me then,” one victim said, referring to an incident 20 years earlier. “It would destroy me now.”
Many of Weinstein’s victims, in contrast, have now spoken on the record, forcefully, by name. That’s a sign attitudes have shifted at least a little over the past 25 years.
Oprah and others suggest Weinstein’s downfall may be a watershed moment, one that finally turns the cultural tide against sexual harassment.
I hope they’re right, but I’m less optimistic. I’ve seen purported watersheds before: Like 1992, the “Year of the Woman,” when a record number of new women were elected to Congress — including Sen. Patty Murray, Adams’ successor — partly in response to the stories of women like Adams’ victims and Anita Hill.
Sure, Adams’ behavior cost him his Senate seat. Weinstein lost his job. But recent reports out of Silicon Valley suggest the sexual-harassment virus has infected another generation of men.
More women speaking out will help, as will more women in positions of power and more anti-harassment training in schools and workplaces. But for this epidemic to end, men’s hearts and minds must change. And I’ve learned that can take time.
On the night before our Adams stories were published, my three Times colleagues and I gathered for dinner at my house. There we realized for the first time that among us we had seven children — all of them girls. We talked about writing the stories for them.
Today, my daughter has daughters. I pray it will be different for them.