The Idaho Division of Veterans Services lists six central values it aims to uphold: compassion for all, unending accountability, absolute integrity, outstanding communication, dignity for everyone and unconditional honesty. The administrator of that division, former state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, should spend some time reviewing that list.
Last week, as more accusers came forward with allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Hagedorn made an offensive joke on social media, mocking victims who speak out after many years of silence.
“Two ladies have come forward describing how Kavanaugh actually intentionally flashed them with his genitalia uncovered while trying to urinate on them! Regardless that he was a newborn these 2 nurses have been scared & need an FBI investigation!” he wrote.
It’s one thing to take a position in the debate over the nomination of a controversial Supreme Court nominee. It’s another to dismiss wholesale those victims of sexual assault and harassment who don’t immediately report the incident — as is the case with a considerable majority of victims.
Hagedorn apologized after an entirely predictable social media comeuppance.
“What was meant as a bad joke was insensitive to many,” he wrote. “I apologize. It was meant to make us ask ourselves, ‘When is it too late to speak up?’ Sexual trauma is serious and real, what we are witnessing is sending the message that it’s OK not to speak up! It’s not!”
Hagedorn’s poor apology shows he didn’t grasp what was wrong with his tasteless joke in the first place.
If someone who has been sexually assaulted chooses not to report, it doesn’t indicate that there’s something wrong with the victim. It shows there’s something wrong with the broader society and, in particular, with institutions responsible for responding to such incidents and the trauma that follows in their wake — institutions like the one Hagedorn leads.
Some victims don’t feel they’ll be taken seriously. Some fear retaliation. Some don’t have a clear understanding of the reporting process. All those factors make reporting less likely. So institutions that provide services to victims have a particular burden to establish confidence that they will deal with reports professionally.
Hagedorn’s joke undermined that confidence, not only on his own behalf but for his entire division, which serves a group that is more likely than the general population to have experienced sexual assault.
Surveys conducted by the U.S. Veterans Administration indicate that about one in four veteran women, and about one in 100 veteran men, report being victims of sexual assault while serving. The VA has a special term for it, military sexual trauma, and an entire set of services have been established specifically to deal with it. Hagedorn’s division likely serves a few thousand victims of military sexual trauma, many of whom probably have not reported it.
In his apology, Hagedorn needed to communicate to the employees of his division that if they are victimized on the job, their report will be taken seriously. He needed to give the same message to the veterans he serves.
Hagedorn placed the onus on victims instead.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter ordered Hagedorn to attend two human resources training sessions on the topic. Hopefully, he finds them enlightening. He needs to repair the damage he caused.