Primary Debates Haven’t Had Any Questions On Sexual Harassment Policies For Decades

Ahead of this week’s Democratic primary debates, Time’s Up — the group of activists and Hollywood stars formed in the wake of the Me Too movement — wants to ensure that the 2020 presidential hopefuls face adequate questioning on how they plan to combat sexual violence and gender inequality.

A new analysis from the group, released Tuesday, finds that past presidential primary debate moderators have asked few, if any, questions about issues like sexual harassment, paid family leave or the gender pay gap.

“Out of more than 4,000 questions in 123 primary debates from 1996 to 2016, only eight questions directly addressed sexual harassment, child care, equal pay, or paid leave,” the group said in its report, after analyzing the transcripts of 123 Democratic and Republican primary debates over that 20-year period.

Across all of those debates, the analysis found, candidates faced only three questions about the subject of sexual harassment. A whopping zero of them asked candidates to propose policies that would address it.

Time’s Up argued that the problem is related to a lack of diversity and representation among presidential debate moderators, the subject of a previous report from the group.

According to the group’s analysis, six of the eight questions came from female moderators, “demonstrating just how important it is for women to serve as debate moderators,” the report says.

The group went on to suggest four questions that moderators should ask this time around, beginning with the first debates this Wednesday and Thursday.

  1. Do you think we’ve gone far enough to address sexual harassment? What have you done and what will you do to ensure that work is safe, fair and dignified for women of all kinds?
  2. What is your plan to work with business to close the pay and opportunity gap for women, in particular women of color, LGBTQ women and working mothers?
  3. Do you believe that the United States should have mandatory paid family and medical leave and, if so, what is your proposal to make it happen?
  4. How will you assure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable child care?

Time’s Up’s findings and recommendations echo previous concerns from other women’s rights and progressive organizations, who have urged less sexism in media coverage of presidential candidates and more questions about issues that particularly affect women — directed at both male and female candidates.

“Right now there is a sexual predator in the White House, abortion rights are under attack, and there is a maternal health crisis in this country, with Black women especially facing a maternal mortality epidemic,” a coalition of organizations, led by women’s group UltraViolet, wrote in an open letter earlier this year. “We need a candidate committed to protecting and promoting women’s rights, but too often, only women candidates are asked about reproductive rights and justice, maternal health or mortality, combating sexism, and addressing and eradicating sexual violence ― if these questions are even asked at all.”

Over the last few years, the landscape has undoubtedly changed, making it even more imperative for candidates to face questions about what they plan to do to address these issues.

The Me Too movement has sparked a national conversation about sexual misconduct and the systemic and cultural problems that enable it — including in the world of politics, from the White House to the halls of Congress.

Several of the 2020 Democratic candidates — the most diverse presidential field ever — have been forceful advocates on issues like sexual violence and gender inequity.

On the moderator side, the Democratic National Committee has pledged to have at least one woman and one person of color (sometimes the same person) presiding over each of its primary debates.

This week’s debates, hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, will feature five moderators, four of whom are women or people of color.

Read the full Time’s Up report here.

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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