Ten years ago, Hillary Clinton made a mistake. One that arguably (and sadly) holds even more weight today than it did in 2008. One that despite – no – because of her reputation as champion of women, Clinton is fully prepared to admit.
Her apparent transgression? As surfaced by The New York Times late last month, the then-Democratic presidential candidate allowed senior campaign advisor, Burns Strider, to escape with his job, despite the fact that he’d been accused of sexual harassment by a female subordinate.
In a 1500-word mea culpa shared to her Facebook page, the 70-year-old offered a nuanced reflection on her decision to retain the ‘Faith Based Operations’ guru all those years ago, one that she boiled down to the following:
“The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.”
LISTEN: Does this change the way we should think about Hillary Clinton? Mia Freedman and Amelia Lester discuss. Post continues after.
According to three sources who spoke to the paper, a 30-year-old woman who worked with the American Values Network founder, “told a campaign official that Mr. Strider had rubbed her shoulders inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead and sent her a string of suggestive emails.”
Following an internal investigation, Clinton chose to dock his pay for several weeks, separate him physically and technologically from his accuser and stipulate that he undergo counselling. This decision was reached despite the recommendation of her campaign manager that Strider be sacked.
“I did this because I didn’t think firing him was the best solution to the problem,” Clinton wrote. “He needed to be punished, change his behavior, and understand why his actions were wrong. The young woman needed to be able to thrive and feel safe. I thought both could happen without him losing his job. I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous.”
He needed to be punished…
As it turned out, Strider was fired from a subsequent position for “workplace issues,” which according to The New York Times included “allegations that he harassed a young female aide”.
“That re-occurrence troubles me greatly, and it alone makes clear that the lesson I hoped he had learned while working for me went unheeded. Would he have done better – been better – if I had fired him? Would he have gotten that next job?” Clinton wrote. “There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now.”
Clinton shared that, after the story broke on January she spoke with the woman at the centre of it all, and obtained her permission to write the post. The woman, Clinton shared, fortunately “flourished” in her subsequent role, and “was glad that her accusations were taken seriously, that there was a clear process in place for dealing with harassment”.
Even if, from a 2018 standpoint, the punishment may not seem to fit the offence, Clinton said felt it sufficient at the time.
The reason she has changed her mind on this incident is no doubt the same as why The Times deemed it newsworthy 10 years later – a long-overdue “seismic shift” has occurred in the way we approach sexual harassment. One sparked by women in Hollywood and Washington D.C. that burned through other industries via social media: think the millions of women who shared their stories under #metoo, think the celebrities that wore black to the Golden Globes to declare that “Time’s Up” on workplace harassment.
“Especially now, we all need to be thinking about the complexities of sexual harassment, and be willing to challenge ourselves to reassess and question our own views,” Clinton wrote.
“In other words, everyone’s now on their second chance, both the offenders and the decision-makers. Let’s do our best to make the most of it.”
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