• Carolyn Maloney

#MeToo was a culture shock. But changing laws will take more than a year.

Source: USA Today

By Cara Kelly and Aaron Hegarty

One year ago, allegations against Harvey Weinsteinprompted a worldwide witnessing of sexual harassment and assault stories on social media, and the #MeToo movement sparked a cultural reckoning. Bill Cosby is in jail. Accused men, from Les Moonvesto Al Franken, have been ousted from their positions of power. Allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have left an unprecedented number of Americans opposing his confirmation.

But in this year, activists’ full-throated efforts haven’t been matched by the elected officials who could pass laws to protect people from sexual misconduct in the workplace and beyond.

USA TODAY examined more than 2,000 bills passed in the past 24 months by Congress and by legislatures in all 50 states that contained the word “sexual” and buzz terms such as “me too,” “rape kits” and “nondisclosure” using the legislative tracking service LegiScan. We found that since #MeToo began, elected officials passed 261 laws that directly addressed topics championed by the movement, just a slight uptick from the 238 in the year prior.

#MeToo has raised awareness and made it easier for ongoing reform efforts to get traction. Elected officials across the country have held hearings and introduced resolutions and bills in support. But a closer analysis reveals few new laws that substantially remove the barriers for victims to report and seek justice or that increase accountability for perpetrators and employers.

Congress has passed no laws related to sexual harassment in the workplace since #MeToo, not even regarding its own handling of harassment and discrimination claims against senators and representatives, which lags behind the standard set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for private companies across the country.

States have passed a number of laws, but the majority are limited in scope. Others, like a pair of California bills aimed at making it easier to take sexual harassment complaints to court, were vetoed.

“Everybody thinks some massive, massive change in laws has happened with the #MeToo movement. But it hasn’t,” says Carol Moody, president of women’s advocacy group Legal Momentum. “Nobody will disagree something needs to be done, but the devil’s in the details.”

©2019