Florence George Graves, one of the reporters who broke the story of Sen. Robert Packwood's alleged sexual misconduct, spoke on the imbalance of power in Washington, D.C. to a group of approximately 25 at the Institute of Politics Tuesday.
"Rumors about sexual harassment on the Hill had floated around for many years." Graves said. "When I began exploring the problem of sexual harassment, Packwood's name just kept coming up."
Graves, who is working on a book about the Packwood scandal and its implications, said she found it "really ironic" that a senator known for his feminist leanings would be accused of harassing women from 1969 to 1990.
"I found this really surprising, because he was known as an advocate of women's right," she said, nothing that Packwood, a Republican from Oregon, once counted Gloria Stienem and Kate Michelman (check name) among his friends.
Graves, currently a public policy fellow at Radcliffe, said the issues raised by the allegations of sexual harassment and the treatment of the issue by other Senators and the media provide insight into the power structure on Capitol Hill.
"This issue [sexual harassment] is symbolic of an imbalance of power." she said "It's a critical issue when it goes to the heart of being financially independent. If you have to leave a job, that [hurts] economic viability,"
"Women do not have the kind of economic power men have, and economic power is one important kind of freedom," she added. "Not having equal access to freedom is the bottom line."
Packwood continues to be dogged by the charges against him. Most recently, the debate has focused on whether hearings on the matter will be held in the Senate Ethics Committee.
"Several men in leadership positions are trying to keep the Senate Ethics Committee from holding hearings," she said. "It's pretty partisan. The Ethics committee has three Republicans and three Democrats. It's been reported that the three Democrats, especially Sen. Richard Bryan (D. Nevada), want public hearings, the three Republicans do not."
"It's a woman who's leading the charge right now outside the Ethics Committee," Graves said. referring to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D. Calif.)
Graves said females were not the only ones concerned with sexual harassment.
"This is not just a 'women's issue.' [There were] a number of Women and men who were outraged by this alleged conduct," she said. "We're not talking about all men. We're talking about a system."
The continuing debate about the issue has surprised many Washington insiders, Graves said.
"Many people thought it would be a one or two day story," she said of the Packwood allegations. "It's been a three year story.