We wonder how many people are asking “Will I be next? Have I done something I thought was just fun, but could be considered sexual harassment?”

It might have been fun if you were the fanny-patter, but not so much if you were the fanny-pattee.

People shouldn’t have to cover their hindquarters with a “POSTED / Private Property / No Trespassing” sign.

Affluence and influence can induce a feeling of “I’m important. I can do whatever I want and get away with it, particularly if I’m doing it to people who are insignificant, compared to me. Nobody’s going to believe them.”

That attitude can backfire in spectacular fashion. The accused so far are prominent people in the political, entertainment and media sectors — including the current president, two former presidents, a judge and a celebrity chef.

They’re entitled to a presumption of innocence. Even so, the evidence against some might convince a jury of skeptics who wouldn’t believe men walked on the moon, even if Buzz Aldrin himself took them there.

Some have confessed and are begging forgiveness. A few have resigned from their jobs or were fired. Others say they’re the victims of lies.

What’s outrageous is that some of the culprits are legally shielded from certain consequences of their offenses. We don’t know who they are and can’t find out, and the taxpayers are paying the equivalent of “hush money” to their accusers.

They’re members of Congress. They’re not likely to resign, and we can’t fire any of them until the next election.

Since 1997, at least $15 million has been paid to settle 264 complaints against them under the Congressional Accountability Act. The money comes from the Treasury Department, which means it comes from the taxpayers.

The complaints involve allegations of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and violations of other civil rights laws. It’s impossible to say how many have dealt with sexual misconduct, or the lawmakers involved, because settlement details aren’t broken down and only lump sums are disclosed.

To wit: Rep. John Conyers denies allegations by a former female staff member who said he fired her after she refused his sexual advances ... but $27,000 was paid to settle her harassment claim.

This didn’t cost Conyers one cent. The money came out of his taxpayer-funded office budget.

What’s Congress doing about this?

Efforts to require mandatory anti-discrimination and sexual harassment training are proceeding for members and their staffs and interns.

At present, people who say they were victims of congressional sexual misconduct must participate in counseling and mediation and wait for 30 days before filing formal complaints. This only victimizes therm even more. Proposed legislation would make these actions voluntary.

Anti-discrimination training is useful because the laws can be complicated. Anti-harassment or “sensitivity” training would be wasted on anyone who sees nothing wrong with behaving in a racially, religiously, culturally or sexually offensive manner and has neither a sense of decency nor any regard for someone else’s feelings.

Other legislation would require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to reimburse the Treasury Department.

None of this is enough. Too much shielding and secrecy would still be involved.

Ideally, we should know if a member of Congress has been accused of wrongdoing, but if the wrongdoing doesn’t take the form of a criminal offense, it isn’t a matter of public record.

Rep. Barbara Comstock testified that she heard about a staffer who resigned after a lawmaker asked her to bring work material to his house, then exposed himself. The lawmaker wasn’t identified, and there’s been no corroboration of the event.

If he had done this in public, in the presence of casual observers, it would have been a crime punishable by incarceration — indecent exposure — but he did it in the privacy of his home.

Regardless of where it happened, such behavior displays a monumental character flaw. Would you want such a degenerate letch to represent you in Congress, making laws that govern you?

If a member of Congress settles a claim against him, regardless of its nature, the money should come from his own pocket. We also should know who made the settlement and the reason for it. This would be useful to know at election time.

It’s hard to believe, but some people will vote for these offenders anyway. They would rather have a deviant in office than someone from the other political party, and they have said so.

Poitics has become more important to them than the well-being of the nation and its people, and that’s more horrifying than anything else.

React to this story:


This Week's Circulars