A little over 30 years ago, a pastor named Robert Fulghum wrote a book called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Its simple rules included sharing everything, playing fair, don't hit other people, putting things back where you found them, cleaning up your own mess, don't take things that aren't yours, saying you're sorry when you hurt somebody, and sticking together.

Apply that to the background of myriad recent #MeToo stories about sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape. When did society decide it was OK to touch people without permission, to scare people into submission or threaten them into silence?

The high-profile accused — a movie producer, movie directors, actors, state politicians, a former president, and media personalities — have gotten the headlines in recent weeks, but we all know someone who has been the harasser or who has been harassed, or worse.

It happens in business, in education, in government, in retail, in factories and in broad daylight between strangers.

Dozens of public figures have joined the discussion, sharing personal stories of what they faced in a number of fields. In Springfield last week, an open letter posted online shared examples of misbehavior in our state capital and among lawmakers. A victim rights advocate this week accused a state senator of misbehavior.

Perpetrators mostly have been unnamed but — as in Hollywood — it seems those closest to the action heard the rumors and worked together to shield others, but took no formal action.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has introduced a measure to require sexual harassment training for government officials and to publish the names of those who don't comply. A vote is expected next week on the measure, which would amend the state's ethics law.

Harassment, abuse, assault and rape are difficult topics to discuss. The dividing line is straight-forward between what is acceptable behavior and what is not: "No'' means "no."

Don't touch without permission; report unwanted or unacceptable behavior or speech; and punish those who break the rules.

In public discussion, heads shake in disgust and nod in agreement. Few take recognizable and immediate action.

Not only must we hold offenders accountable, but victims must feel free to speak up without shame. Leaders must take quick steps to ensure thorough training, accountability and punishment. Prosecutors must listen carefully and act seriously.

We must all be role models of good behavior, teaching the difference between right and wrong, and that speaking up is not a crime. Most importantly, we must punish bad behavior. 

As Dontae Latson, president/CEO of YWCA of McLean County wrote in a recent commentary for The Pantagraph, "We cannot allow our discomfort to keep us in a place of inaction. Inaction is unacceptable."


Load comments