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The reactions are revealing.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Officials in the Oregon Legislature are looking into claims that state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, has a habit of inappropriately touching female colleagues, even after being told to stop. It would be premature to call for Kruse's resignation before the investigation is complete. It's not too early, however, to pass judgment on some of the common responses to reports of Kruse's alleged conduct - responses that explain why even powerful women are often reluctant to complain about harassment.

State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, said this week that Kruse has been groping her for years. She came forward reluctantly, publicly naming Kruse only after Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, told The (Portland) Oregonian that she had warned Kruse to keep his hands off Gelser. Burdick says she's seen it more than once - so why didn't Gelser, Burdick or both come forward before now?

Maybe it's because of how such complaints are greeted in some quarters. One type of response, all too familiar to women, came from the Oregon Firearms Federation, which commented on its Facebook page that "...the allegations about him touching Sara Gelser would only mean he needs an eye test." In other words, Gelser, a 43-year-old woman, is incapable of arousing the physical interest of a male colleague. She'd have to be 20 years younger for her allegations to be taken seriously.

The Independent Party of Oregon drew attention to the federation's Facebook post, but there's nothing unusual about it, and it puts women in a no-win situation. A young woman is asking for it. An older woman shouldn't take uninvited physical contact seriously, because she's not an object of desire. Little wonder that Gelser would hesitate to subject herself to the double insult - to her credibility and to her appearance - that is implicit in this response.

Another type of response is even more common: the boys-will-be-boys excuse. It's everywhere - in the comments following online news stories, in letters to the editor, in workplace conversation. Kruse and others like him are just being friendly. Maybe they're out of step with the times, but women shouldn't freak out about a hug that lasts a little too long or a hand that drifts a bit too far.

In other words, women should accept unwanted physical attention, just as generations of women before them have done. A century of progress toward women's rights, including the right to represent 130,000 Oregonians in the state Senate, hasn't changed some things: Men are still entitled to be grabby, so get used to it.

This excuse should not protect Kruse. If he's under the impression that he's free to force unwanted physical attention on female colleagues, that impression should vanish the instant he's told to stop.

Kruse was told to stop: by Burdick, and also by others. Senate President Peter Courtney made it clear in a letter to Kruse on Oct. 20: "Continuing to touch women at work is inappropriate workplace conduct of which you have already been warned. Let me be very clear. Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them."

The warning came from the legislature's counsel and its employee services manager, both of which are investigating further. The facts, as determined by that investigation, will be needed to assess Kruse's future in the Senate. But one thing is already known: When behavior of the kind that is alleged is excused or defended, it will continue.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 25, 2017
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