12 Of John Conyers' Former Female Staffers Are Defending Him As A "Gentleman"
In a statement given to The Huffington Post on Sunday, a group of 12 women have come out to describe Democratic Michigan Rep. John Conyers in positive terms. The former staffers supported Conyers in their statement and said, "We are women whose combined tenures span over thirty years working with Congressman Conyers in Washington, D.C., in a variety of capacities, including legal, communications, and executive support positions. We do not condone or justify sexual harassment and believe the ongoing national debate important."
On Monday, Conyers came under swift scrutiny after BuzzFeed published an investigative report detailing sexual harassment allegations against the public figure. Conyers has denied the accusations and said, "I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics." On Sunday, Conyers stepped down from his position as a member on the House Judiciary Committee.
The staffers' statement went on to say, "While we do not pass judgment on the specific allegations reported in the press or the women who brought them, our experiences with Mr. Conyers were quite different than the image of him being portrayed in the media."
The staffers described Conyers as a "gentleman" who had "never behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner in our presence." The letter added that Conyers was a "respectful" man who "valued our opinions" and had "challenged" the staffers' thinking. "Under his leadership, we worked in an environment dedicated to the advancement of human and civil rights, including women's rights, immigrants' rights, voting rights, and the intellectual property rights of creators," the signatories said.
In addition to the previous staffers' collective statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has remained reticent about condemning Conyers. On Sunday, Pelosi described the ranking Conyers as an "icon" of the United States. "The fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing," she said on NBC.
This isn't the first time that a well-known male figure has witnessed support from his social and professional coterie. After Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken was accused of sexual misconduct by radio host Leeann Tweeden, Franken expressed remorse over his behavior and said, "I'm embarrassed and ashamed. I've let a lot of people down, and I'm hoping I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust." In spite of criticism against Franken, 36 former female colleagues from Saturday Night Live issued a statement supporting him as they said they felt "compelled to stand up for Al Franken."
In language strikingly similar to the letter on Conyers, the statement in favor of Franken said, "What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms. Tweeden, and to the public. In our experience, we know Al as a devoted and dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic performer, and an honorable public servant. That is why we are moved to quickly and directly affirm that after years of working with him, we would like to acknowledge that not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behavior; and mention our sincere appreciation that he treated each of us with the utmost respect and regard."
In addition to Franken and Conyers' supporters, HBO Girls creator Lena Dunham came under fire on social media after she defended Girls writer Murray Miller. According to The Hollywood Reporter, actress Aurora Perrineau accused Miller of sexually assaulting her in 2012. Miller, who has "vehemently" denied the accusation, was supported by Dunham in a statement that said, "While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue." After receiving backlash, Dunham issued an apology.
As the nation makes sense of sexual violence in different industries, some may be wondering how to respond if they find out a friend or family member harassed someone. Though it can be tempting to focus only on your experience with the accuser, it's important to simultaneously respect others' experiences and take an objective stance.