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Whitefoot: Harassment is harassment, period

U.S. Sen. Al Franken announced last week that he would be resigning from his seat amid sexual harassment allegations. Since that announcement, I've heard many people say he shouldn't have to because what he supposedly did "isn't that bad," and each time I hear someone say that I get a little more angry and a little more sad.

Minnesota State Statute 609.748 defines harassment as "a single incident of physical or sexual assault, a single incident of stalking ... a single incident of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images ... or repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security or privacy of another, regardless of the relationship between the actor and the intended target."

Eight women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct. Allegations include claims he forced them to kiss him and that he held onto their buttocks while posing for pictures.

I understand the need to defend a person you respected, looked up to or trusted when they do something wrong, but as a woman who has been on the wrong end of unwanted touches and sexual advances, it doesn't matter what that person did. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment. Period.

I will agree that what U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., are accused of doing can be considered worse than what Franken is accused of, but it doesn't make what Franken did any more right or any less of a violation in the eyes of the women on the receiving end.

When I was in college, a friend of mine called me one night in mid-December while he was drunk and wandering the streets of Marquette, Mich. He had a fight with his roommate. I told him to stay where he was and I would come get him so he could crash at my apartment for the night.

He was supposed to sleep on the futon, but came into my room a while later and said he couldn't get comfortable. He asked to sleep in my bed and promised to stay on his side. He was a friend, and I trusted him, and that turned out to be a mistake. I spent the entire night fending off his advances.

Yes, looking back, there were many things I could have done. I could have left my bed and slept in the living room by myself. I could have called campus police to have him removed from my apartment. I could have went across the hallway and asked my neighbor for help. But like many women in situations like that, I wasn't thinking about what I could have done; I was just trying to survive.

The next day, I had an early-morning symphony performance, so I left him in my apartment and went about my day as usual. It didn't hit me what had happened until after my performance when I was faced with going home. I was so ashamed, and I felt like the entire incident was my fault. I just sat in the staging room staring at my hands until I was the last one there; and even when a couple of my friends asked me if I was OK, I just nodded, playing it off as being tired.

I now know it wasn't my fault. This person was someone I trusted and he broke that trust. So I cut him out of my life and never spoke about it to anyone, until now.

And no, it doesn't matter who he is or what his name is. All that matters is that I'm one of the lucky ones. I had the choice to never see or hear from him again. Some people don't have that option. There's a reason Time magazine's "Person of the Year 2017" are all the women and men who spoke up against sexual harassment. It takes courage.

Adelle Whitefoot is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She is the beat writer for Two Harbors City Council and North Shore Storm hockey teams.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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