Texas Congresswoman Responds to Backlash Over Sex Assault Comments

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson says she stands by her comments on sexual assault and harassment in spite of public scrutiny

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, is standing by her comments to NBC 5 on sexual assault and harassment in spite of public scrutiny leveled her way on Thursday.

"It created a lot of opinion. I've lived with opinions all my life, and I do every day. I appreciate them. They rarely sway me, because I try my best to look at the issues from a fair standpoint, and when I take my positions I roll with the punches," said Johnson, who represents Texas' 30th Congressional District. "I don't think there's any woman anywhere that could look at anything in my record, of my legislative record or my behavior, that indicates that I don't support women. But I do think that as adults we all have responsibility to do what it takes to try to protect ourselves as well."

A day earlier, Johnson told NBC 5 that a victim's attire and behavior may be a factor in sexual assault or harassment. NBC 5 asked Johnson to weigh in on the #MeToo social media campaign and the accusations leveled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Johnson says she was angry and disappointed in the man who supported many of her Democratic colleagues in Washington, D.C., but also believes women bore responsibility.

"I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman's responsibility as it was a man's — how you were dressed, what your behavior was," Johnson said Wednesday. "I'm from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That's the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves."

When asked if it's time to stop talking about what women are wearing and instead discuss abuses of power, the congresswoman insisted her message is meant to empower women to prevent harassment and assault.

"I think we also need to start talking about the power that women have to control the situation. There's law enforcement, you can refuse to cooperate with that kind of behavior. I think that many times, men get away with this because they are allowed to get away with it by the women," Johnson said.

Johnson also expressed disappointment that more women didn’t come forward sooner, saying women need guidance to stand up against harassment and report it.

The questioning of the alleged victim's role is not new. On social media, where millions have engaged in the #MeToo campaign, some of responses blame victims of assault or harassment.

"I know the impact of those words, and I know it keeps women from coming forward," said Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women's Shelter & Support in Dallas.

She said questions about a victim's attire or whether a victim's behavior invited abuse contribute to a culture of silence and prevent victims from coming forward, especially if the perpetrator is in a position of power.

"I think reasonable people want to try to figure out a reasonable answer for why something like this happens, and I think perhaps sometimes when we think maybe it's an ethnicity other than mine, or it's another economic group, or it's the victim’s problem, then maybe it won't happen to me," Langbein said. "It's a lot easier for society to blame a victim and wash our hands of it. The cure to this will be really hard work. It will be changing opinions and changing society's ideas of what power can do and not do and holding people accountable."

Actress Alyssa Milano ignited the #MeToo social media movement on Oct. 15. Milano's "Charmed" co-star, Rose McGowan, is one of more than 40 women who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse or rape. Weinstein has denied allegations of non-consensual sex.

Following NBC 5's original report, Johnson released a statement Thursday attempting to clarify her message. That statement is below in its entirety.

"Sexual assault and harassment has no place in our society. This is something I believe deeply. And at each turn of my professional life, I have made it my mission to fight for women’s rights,” said Congresswoman Johnson. “I do not blame the victims of sexual assault for the actions of their assailants. I do acknowledge that my comments regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue, but that does not detract from the fact that criminals need to be held accountable for their actions. I will never condone those who feel they can abuse the power of their positions to sexually assault and harass women, and I will always encourage victims to come forward so that we can hold these criminals accountable. Thanks to the testimony of brave women like Anita Hill, students on college campuses, and most recently the victims of Harvey Weinstein’s attacks, we are able to have a public dialogue about the systemic issues that we face as a society. Ultimately, we need to unequivocally support the victims of sexual assault and harassment as best we can while working to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions. And supporting all women in this fight will continue to be my life’s work."

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