John Krull

John Krull

The lawsuit Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s four accusers filed a few days ago makes one thing clear.

Sexual harassment is serious business. Those who haven’t grasped that by now will have to learn their lesson the hard way — either in a courtroom or in the court of public opinion.

The complaint filed by one state lawmaker and three legislative staffers puts the culture at the Statehouse on trial as much as it does Hill. In addition to saying the attorney general groped them and touched them in inappropriate ways without their consent at a legislative session wrap-up party, the women also argue lawmakers, staffers and even journalists trivialized both their experience and their concern.

So, they’re suing both Hill and the state of Indiana.

It’s hard to argue the four women are wrong.

Ever since the story of Hill’s drunken spree in the spring of 2018 emerged, the response of the state’s political leadership has been ambivalent at best. Gov. Eric Holcomb and the leaders of all four legislative caucuses called for Hill to resign.

Hill reacted by adopting the Donald Trump/Brett Kavanaugh approach to such accusations. Whenever possible, deny, deny, deny, even in the face of strong evidence. Muddy the waters when one can. Attack and belittle the accusers to diminish their credibility. Explore every option to evade accountability.

It’s worked.

After calling for Hill’s resignation, the governor and legislative leaders didn’t do much. The leaders of the four caucuses could have ratcheted up the pressure on Hill by pledging, together, they would institute impeachment proceedings.

But, cowed perhaps by the not-so-subtle hints/threats from Hill’s defenders that they would expose many lawmakers’ own sexual indiscretions, the Legislature shrank from the task.

The other investigations were perfunctory. Even so, they turned up more than 20 credible witnesses who said Hill spent the night in question, in one witness’ memorable description, acting like a drunken freshman at a frat party. Other women besides the original four also said he had touched them in inappropriate ways.

A special prosecutor, though, declined to press criminal charges, largely because the chances of conviction were iffy at best.

Hill claimed the prosecutor’s decision was a vindication.

That’s like saying getting a D-minus puts one on the dean’s list. Hill passed, but by the skin of his teeth.

The burden of proof in a civil suit is less rigorous than in a criminal one. He will have a much tougher time ducking responsibility for his actions in this lawsuit.

He also will have a battle on his hands later this year when the state disciplinary commission takes up the question of whether he should be allowed to practice law in Indiana. Even if one adopts the most charitable interpretation of his conduct, it’s difficult to say he has behaved as an officer of the court should. If he loses his license to practice, he also will lose his office.

As he should.

That Curtis Hill is a lout isn’t exactly news.

That these four women — three of whom are young enough to be the daughters of Hill and most lawmakers — felt isolated and ostracized for coming forward is in some ways even more disturbing than the original allegations.

My work requires me to spend a lot of time around young people.

The overwhelming majority of them want to do well. They want to fit in, to be part of the team, to be taken seriously as a member of the organization.

There are people out there, unfortunately, who try to take advantage of these young people’s desire to make their way in the world. And, just as unfortunate, there are a lot of people who are willing or even eager to look the other way when that happens.

If these young women were my students, I’d tell them I’m proud of them for standing up for themselves.

And then I’d say I’m sorry so many people who ought to know better weren’t willing to stand with them.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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