Wednesday, September 4, 2019

How Todd Meyer and other public officials escape accountability for Sexual Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment can significantly impair workplace productivity for both victims and bystanders as well as have a devasting impact on the victims. According to the American Psychological Association [APA] “decades of research has documented the extensive damage suffered by victims of sexual harassment, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, job turnover and post-traumatic stress.” But if it has such a negative impact on the workplace then why haven’t companies done more to reduce it and why do so many perpetrators escape accountability?

Columbia University psychology professor Elissa Perry, PhD, who has researched sexual harassment training programs, says, "It's not just about providing one training and you're done. It's got to be a comprehensive approach,". "The tone is set at the top. Are they just checking a box? If they are only doing it for legal reasons, then they don't care if it works." I note that she says the tone is set at the top. So what happens when the person at the top, who is setting the tone, is the abuser?

Often it means that the abuse goes unreported. The ADA reports that the EEOC estimates that less than 14 percent of individuals experiencing harassment ever file a formal complaint. It is this lack of reporting that gives a green light to perpetrators.

If something is so detrimental and no one seems to want perpetrators to go free to abuse others then why the low reporting rate? What happens to those who report? Often organizations close ranks and ostracize the victims who are seen as impeding productivity or casting a dark cloud over the organization. Additionally, victims may be fired or retaliated against in other ways. According to the APA more than 70 percent of EEOC sexual harassment charges filed during fiscal years 2016 and 2017 included charges of retaliation. In the end victims often feel that the costs of reporting exceeds the benefit.

When news broke in late July 2019 that DCS Associate Director Todd Meyer had resigned without explanation some of us had an inkling as to the root of his sudden, unexpected and unexplained departure. When I received confirmation on 12 August 2019 I posted the following on Facebook;
I am seeking YOUNG GIRLS/WOMEN who were offered plea bargains or reduced charges in exchange for sex during October 2002 - June 2018 on Boone County Indiana charges. Please send message. Also anyone who was referred to the Juvenile Court by Jerry Taylor who formerly worked for Western Boone Schools.
Those dates were while Todd Meyer was the Boone County, Indiana Prosecuting Attorney. That is when some victims allege Meyer used his authority to coerce them into yielding to his unwanted advances.

It wasn’t until 29 August 2019 that the popular media disclosed that Meyer resigned because he sexually harassed an intern beginning immediately after he hired her in May 2019. Meyer located the young woman on Linked In and asked her to come work for him although she wasn’t seeking such an opportunity.

This was the first time that a young woman had officially complained against Meyer. Yet I have a list of other victims and, based upon long ago complaints, I raised the issue of a child sex ring operating in Boone County beginning more than 12 years ago. At that time the community rallied against me while supporting the abusers.

Meyer and I battled each other at the time. He filed false criminal charges against me numerous times but as a competent litigator I defeated them and even went so far as to seek reinstatement of the felony charge after a special prosecutor sought dismissal. I also got the Disciplinary Commision of the Indiana Supreme Court to charge him with “misconduct”. So imagine what a young woman would face if she came forward. Particularly if she was already facing criminal charges.

In 2006 when Jerry Taylor, an assistant principal at Western Boone High School, abruptly retired the community held a support rally for him. He subsequently left the county. The victim, who told me that Taylor had sexually assaulted her, complained to school administrators and Todd Meyer but did not attend that rally. Taylor claimed that he had an “arrangement” with Boone County Juvenile Court Judge Steve David when speaking about young girls and referring them to the court. Implicit in the conversation was that it was girls who were not receptive to his, as Todd Meyer would say, “friendliness”. Meyer refused to investigate the sexual assault allegation or prosecute.

This sexual harassment went unpunished because those facilitating it were the people in power. For Taylor it was kept from the public because, like Meyer, he simply resigned. The school administration, of course, didn’t want to publicize it because who wants to be known for running a school that employs a man leching after young girls who also sexually assaults a parent.

If not for members of the community pressuring the media and a young woman coming forward and disclosing Meyer’s communications to her his offense would have remained opaque. His employer, DCS, kept quiet about it and wouldn’t disclose the reason for Meyer’s sudden departure. This is how they save face and perpetrators get by with it. Those in power who could publicize it choose not to, and like the Catholic Church, are just pleased to have the perpetrator removed from the environment of the current victims. The perpetrators are then free to shop for new victims to sexually abuse from whatever batch of people they are exposed to in their new location.

But according to James Campbell Quick, PhD, a professor of leadership and management at the University of Texas at Arlington, "Sexual harassment is really not about sex. It's about power and aggression and manipulation. It's an abuse of power problem,". If it is a power issue then that gives us an additional dynamic to add to the rubric for formulating strategic responses and creating formulas to mitigate opportunities for harassment to occur.

Clearly the people in positions of power should receive greater scrutiny. When these positions are in government offices, such as Meyer has worked in, policies need to be established that provide greater transparency to the public. DCS should not be allowed to keep silent about one of its workers being sexually harassed just because the perpetrator took advantage of a legal way to avoid disclosure of the offense.[fn1]

When Meyer was the elected prosecutor for Boone County he was the person who held the greatest power in the office. He was the second most powerful official in the county. He was his own overseer. It is no coincidence though that sexually abusive people seek positions of power. As it has been stated, sexual harassment is not about sex but it is about power, aggression, and an abuse of power.

On Meyer’s Linked In page he notes that he is the Founder and President of Sylvia's Child Advocacy Center. This association along with prosecutorial access to the communications between sexual abusers and their young victims have exposed Meyer to the grooming practices used to manipulate and test the receptiveness of young girls. The texts of Meyer’s sent to the young intern clearly demonstrate grooming practices. The Indiana Governor, Eric Holcomb, called these messages “disgusting” while Meyer referred to them as “positive” and “friendly”. That says quite a bit about his personality and ability to perform a psychological self-assessment.

The APA studies this issue and the roots behind it but they say more research is needed to identify personality traits that may contribute to sexual harassment. One study published in a 2017 issue of Personality and Individual Differences found a positive association between sexual harassment proclivity and the "dark triad" personality traits. Those are narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These are three traits which Meyer clearly expresses.

Employers should look for these traits in prospective employees, especially those who will be in a supervisory position. They should also create a culture which demonstrates that workplace sexual harassment will not be tolerated. This would include favouring the more costly ongoing sexual harassment prevention programs rather than the less expensive sexual harassment claim settlement insurance. Finally, it is imperative that governments promote transparency by requiring disclosure of verified sexual harassment complaints rather than the current veil of secrecy such as that used by the Department of Child Services regarding Todd Meyer.

[1] The Indiana Access to Public Records Act makes termination notices of public employees part of the public record but not resignation letters.

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