Over the past few weeks, the country has been rocked with a scandal involving Congresswoman Katie Hill. The freshman member of Congress from California resigned over the weekend following reporting of adultery and an explicit relationship with a young campaign staffer. Although many people felt that her resignation was unnecessary and her actions were ultimately harmless, the fact is that Hill sexually exploited a staffer through her position of power, and her actions are emblematic of a larger problem of misconduct in our workplaces.
Conservative outlet Redstate started the saga with reporting that Hill had engaged in a two-year long sexual relationship with 24-year old female campaign staffer Morgan Desjardins, which was leaked by her now estranged husband.
Hill’s decision to engage in a relationship with this staffer was both a shockingly poor judgement and outright immoral. Under California law, this woman was technically an employee of Hill, and virtually every workplace in the country strictly forbids relationships between superiors and employees, including Congress. There’s good reason for this, as there are large power imbalances between an employee and the person signing their check.
This story sheds light on an important facet of sexual impropriety-how employers are often able to sexually exploit their employees without fear of consequence. Over 75% of employees who report sexual harassment are punished for speaking up. Furthermore, employees in low-wage jobs, particularly women, are especially susceptible to this kind of abuse, because they don’t have the bargaining power to speak up. Hill’s actions are reflective of a more widespread societal problem of those in positions of power taking it upon themselves to abuse that power without remorse.
For teens who don’t know why this topic should be of importance to them, this type of exploitation can happen to anyone. Imagine if you were in Desjardin’s position of being in a relationship with an employer or superior of some kind. Wouldn’t you feel the need to stay out of fear of repercussions? The person above you has the power to fire you and eliminate your main source of income, humiliate and degrade you in front of your peers and co-workers, and end your future in the career. This large power imbalance is exactly why these kinds of relationships are abhorrent.
Teenagers especially are prone to abuse from employers. One in three teenage employees report being sexually harassed at work. If powerful people aren’t held accountable for the way they treat their employees, members of our generation are going to be the biggest victims.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this debacle had also revealed how misogynistic double standards still harm women; Congressman Matt Gaetz wasn’t forced to resign following his relationship with a young staffer. However, the solution to this is to hold all people in power to a higher standard when it comes to being aware of and respecting the amount of power they have. Teenagers should be aware that if they encounter relationships like this in their workplaces, either with themselves or other people, they have a responsibility to hold the person abusing their power accountable.