Complaints add up, but senator is not called to account

ALICE STEINBACH

February 14, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

And now, as a public service, we bring you the latest score in the Sen. Bob Packwood vs. Women Who Accuse Him of Sexual Misconduct controversy.

Let's see: Last week 13 more women came forth with allegations that Packwood had made unwanted sexual advances toward them -- which, if you add to the 10 previous accusers, comes to . . .

Packwood: 23. Women: 0.

That's right. So far, none of the 23 women who claim they were on the receiving end of uninvited sexual advances by Packwood have had the satisfaction of seeing this powerful senator called to account for his behavior.

Behavior which, by the way, Packwood has more or less admitted actually happened.

But don't take my word for it. Let's do a quick recap of Packwood's public position on whether he really had a habit of surprising female aides and lobbyists by suddenly grabbing them, sometimes French-kissing them and, occasionally, ripping off their clothes.

Originally, he categorically denied the first 10 claims and attempted to cast doubt on the credibility of the women accusing him of sexual misconduct.

Then he issued a statement saying, "My actions were just plain wrong. I just didn't get it. I do now."

A short while later he attributed his behavior to a drinking problem.

Most recently he has made statements saying he has information that contradicts some of the accusations against him and seems once again to be attempting to discredit some of the 23 women who've come forth.

All of which leads me to this observation: We seem to have gone from the Year of the Woman to the Womanizer of the Year.

But Packwood's behavior is even uglier than it seems. Recently, the Senate Ethics Committee, which will investigate the sexual harassment allegations against Packwood, announced that it would also look into the Oregon Republican's possible "misuse of official staff in attempts to intimidate and discredit" his accusers.

Packwood, who has been called upon by a number of women's groups to resign immediately, says he will not resign but will abide by the decision of the Senate Ethics Committee.

When exactly that committee will meet -- in a closed-to-the-public hearing -- remains a mystery. "We don't comment on policy concerning the Senate Ethics Committee," says the committee's acting staff director, Victor Baird, responding to a phone call inquiring about whether a date had been set for the Packwood hearing.

Which brings up an interesting question: Why not? Why shouldn't the voters know exactly what kind of standards our elected officials are being held to? Or not held to.

A number of groups are pressing the Senate Ethics Committee to open up the hearings. "We think women in this country need to have a public forum regarding this very important issue," says Ginny Montes of the National Organization for Women.

"The reality is that these women have been wronged. And Senator Packwood has acknowledged they've been wronged. And we have been calling for his resignation and calling for the Senate to expunge him. We'd like to see that done. And see it done immediately."

But it seems unlikely that the Senate will expunge Packwood. Not, at least, if Sen. Robert Dole's recent remarks reflect the feeling of his colleagues.

After remarking that many of Packwood's accusers "were on the other side politically" and that the whole affair was "instigated by partisan interests," Dole seemed to go even a step further toward dismissing the significance of such behavior -- even if proved true:

"It's important, yes, but should he be kicked out of the Senate?" Dole says. "I don't think so."

Which, once again, reminds us that it's time we make Congress subject itself to the same laws that the rest of us have to follow. There is no excuse for their exemption from the laws they design and pass down like lightning bolts from the gods to the less-privileged public.

And there needs to be a very clearly defined policy against

sexual harassment in the Congress. One with harsh consequences for those who break it.

Or as Lois Kincaid, one of Packwood's recent accusers, puts it: "I think that unwanted sexual advances toward two dozen women over 20 years is at least as important as hiring an illegal nanny."

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