The #MeToo movement has brought a lot of male sexual misbehavior to light, perhaps none as blatant and disturbing as that alleged by six female Chicago-area assistant public defenders. These six have filed a lawsuit alleging that authorities have not done enough to stop male detainees from threatening and exposing themselves to the attorneys, even masturbating in front of them in crowded courtroom lockups and in the county jail.
Ironically, the boss whom the public defenders are suing in this class action is a woman, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. She and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart are being blamed for their inaction in stopping the behavior of the detainees, a problem that has devolved into increasingly worse sexual harassment over the past two years.
Unacceptable or Occupational Hazard
As part of their job, public defenders meet with their clients in lockup. But while the defendant they’re representing may be on his best behavior, other detainees are not. One of the female assistant public defenders said she believes “most if not all” of the approximately 200 women who work as attorneys or interns in the public defender’s office have experienced the abuse.
Oh, there have been a few efforts to encourage better behavior by the inmates, the suit alleges, like a pizza reward for inmates who could go a whole month without dropping their pants or masturbating. Restrictive jumpsuits worked for a time – before inmates set fire to them. And the use of handcuffs was nixed as being inhumane. Sometimes more officers or civilian employees have been placed in lockup to prevent the assaults from occurring. None of these efforts seems to have stuck, leaving the female public defenders open to further harassment.
An uncertain future
Many female lawyers, clerks, and interns have endured the graphic and malicious environment of the Cook County lockups, while others have left their jobs or requested different assignments, even at a detriment to their careers.
This lawsuit sheds light on just one aspect of the everyday face of the #MeToo movement. How many other work environments are this toxic? How many women are enduring the worst to get their job done or because they don’t have another job waiting should they resign?