Rape Culture Persists in NJ Politics

They should be very, very nervous. We will find out who you are.”

That’s the money quote from Jeannine LaRue from a Newark press conference last month about rape and sexual harassment in NJ politics. It was a message for anyone in New Jersey politics who sexually mistreated someone and hoped to get away with it.

A tenured Trenton lobbyist who’s also a rape survivor, Ms LaRue is on a committee with a huge and heavy goal: to undo the decades-long culture that allows men (and it’s mostly men) to get away with a broad spectrum of bad behavior from forceable touching all the way to full blown rape.

My colleague Fred Snowflack covered the event and wrote “it’s time for the men of Trenton politics to start worrying.”

The presser showcased a new tool, an anonymous survey (click here) about things like unwanted forceable touching, coercive behavior, groping, or rape. Designed by the NJ Coalition Against Sexual Violence the survey is an attempt to measure the scale of the problem and to use that data to create better policies.

From the NJCASA website: “Do you work or volunteer in N.J. politics or government? We invite you to complete a brief survey about misogyny and sexual misconduct.”

The more people reply, the better the sample pool.

Murphy v Norcross

This much-hyped ad hoc panel, organized by NJ Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) to examine rape culture, has yet to convene publicly but battle lines have already emerged.

Dueling recriminations ricocheted early on between Gov. Phil Murphy’s camp and figures loyal to political boss George Norcross, an irrepressible Murphy antagonist.

Senator Weinberg and co-panelist Julie Roginsky are Norcross loyalists on a panel that also includes NJ Lt Gov Oliver who’ll surely be defending her side’s version of things.

“Everything is not about Steve Sweeney, Phil Murphy, Leroy Jones and John Currie,” Weinberg said, sounding a lot like wishful thinking.

She was citing the central figures in a recent conflict over leadership of NJ’s Democratic Party. That battle amplified and hardened the ongoing Norcross v Murphy riff.

I learned a lot speaking with women about Senator Weinberg’s panel.

One woman told InsiderNJ that she takes comfort from a panel which is already having a positive effect.

Others reacted less positively to the axe-grinding by some members. They also highlighted the panel’s composition which originally included no Latinas, few Republicans, and fewer young voices.

When Koren Frankfort wrote about rape culture in NJ politics on these pages in late 2017, #MeToo was brand new. People weren’t quite ready to hear Ms Frankfort’s blistering denunciations of a system that (still) protects men who won’t keep their (redacted) in their pants.

“If you haven’t already, you should begin to change your lens and look at the negotiations with a new set of criteria for vetting consultants, vendors and potential candidates for elected office,” Ms. Frankfort wrote. “From a moral standpoint, it’s the right thing to do. From a financial standpoint, you can no longer rule out a rape scandal hurting a man and the money of everyone around them.”

Having a #MeToo conversation in advance with potential vendors and candidates isn’t too much to ask for. Imagine if the gatekeepers had taken to heart Ms. Frankfort’s advice from 27 months ago.

Her reward for her courage and prescience? Ms Frankfort’s voice was largely ignored. Then and now.

“It’s quite a thing to bring something to the table and then not be offered a seat,” Ms. Frankfort told InsiderNJ.

Members of this committee have already indicated ad nauseam their desire to examine  Governor Murphy’s campaign. Good. There’s a certain chair-throwing incident I’d love to know more about.

But this committee loses credibility by focusing on the Governor at the expense of everything else.

Patricia Campos-Medina is a grassroots labor organizer who demanded the inclusion of Latina voices on this committee.

“We need a #MeToo reckoning that is truly looking at system-wide abuses, and not targeting any one political player,” Dr Campos-Medina told InsiderNJ.

In conclusion….

I generally believe #Metoo should be led by those who brought these abuses to light. This is a grassroots movement, not a political tool for those who protected the status quo until it was no longer fashionable.

Rape culture hurts people.

And so this change mustn’t be led by those who’d weaponize someone else’s trauma for political gain.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer. His Radical Gay Agenda includes getting the government out of your bong. 

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