11/02/2011 11:35 am ET Updated Jan 02, 2012

Raising Cain on Sexual Harassment

I heard a report yesterday that Herman Cain said he was having a hard time remembering the details of the accusations (and settling) of sexual harassment charges. A male correspondent I heard on another news source said something like, "That happened 20 years ago. Why is it even an issue now?"

I felt my blood boil. I was a victim of sexual harassment by a faculty member in 1976. To this day, I remember every minute of it, including having a professor hand me a room key, saying "No way," and finding a note on the door when I next came to my TA job, saying "your services are no longer needed." I also remember the woman faculty member who I went to saying, "It happens to women; we'll find you another TA job."

I remember exactly how I felt watching Anita Hill testify against Clarence Thomas, and how every detail of my own experience came flooding back. I remember how I felt when there was finally a definition of sexual harassment and a federal law making it illegal, so that future generations of women wouldn't experience what I had gone through.

This week, I did the first required training for the staff of a specific national religious denomination on sexual harassment. Up until now, such training had been optional in the headquarters of this denomination. It's either not offered or optional in many workplaces.
I was reminded by one of my colleagues that Herman Cain is an Associate Pastor at a National Baptist Church in Atlanta. I wondered if his preparation for the pastorate included what my denomination and many others require: a required course on clergy sexual misconduct prevention and how to create a congregation free from sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. The fact is that in a national study last year, Baylor University found that as many as 3 percent of all women currently attending a congregation have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct. Both as a business leader and as a religious leader, Mr. Cain should know well the facts about sexual harassment law and prevention. He surely should know how serious it is and its lasting impact on those who have experienced it at a workplace or in a congregation.

Sexual harassment, because of the law, may no longer be as blatant as it was when a faculty member fired me for not having sex with him. But it still exists. Workplaces, including faith-based organizations, still need training on sexual harassment prevention. Women and men need to know that they can come forward with their complaints and be taken seriously.

I'm hoping that Mr. Cain has learned that lesson this week.