2016 Changemakers: Gretchen Carlson & Abby Honold

Above: Gretchen Carlson Below: Abby Honold Courtesy photos

[Sexual harassment] is happening every single day to women in all walks of life… I’ve heard from so many women, from Wall Street to a tiny little town in Alabama. It’s everywhere. – Gretchen Carlson

On July 6 Gretchen Carlson, former Miss Minnesota and Miss America and former host of “Fox & Friends,” filed a lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. She claimed that Ailes made sexual advances and later fired her because she complained about sexual harassment at Fox.

Carlson had secretly taped conversations with Ailes on her iPhone for more than a year, in which he labeled her a “man hater,” and instructed her to “learn to ‘get along with the boys,'” in addition to telling her they should have a sexual relationship. Enough was enough. Carlson stood up to one of the most powerful men in broadcasting.

She also fought Fox’s attempt to force her claims to be adjudicated via closed-door arbitration – in which the public and media is kept from learning details about the story – rather than in open court. As word of her action spread, dozens of other women stepped forward to accuse Ailes of similarly harassing and demeaning behavior. Ultimately, he was forced to resign. In September, Carlson and 21st Century Fox Corporation (Fox News’s parent corporation) settled the lawsuit for $20 million.

Some find it surprising to see Carlson, the Fox host who spouted right wing comments, suddenly in the position of feminist hero. Yet, Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom, who specializes in sexual harassment and discrimination cases, told the Daily Beast, “It’s true that Gretchen and I disagree on political issues but, listen, sexual harassment happens to conservatives, it happens to liberals, it happens to women, it happens to men, and it shouldn’t be a political issue.”

More recently Abby Honold, a University of Minnesota student who was raped in November 2014, spent more than a year working to have Daniel Drill-Mellum, her rapist, charged with the crime. A recorded trick phone call and video was made by his friends to help him, and she was treated callously by Minneapolis law enforcement. It wasn’t until Kevin Randolph, a new officer on the case persuaded more victims to come forward to help the case that Drill-Mellum, (who had been expelled by the University), was sentenced to six years in prison for two counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Because of Honold’s efforts, and her willingness to speak out publicly, a light has been shined on the fact that since 2010 more than 1,000 sexual assaults were reported to the University’s Aurora Center for rape prevention and victim advocacy – and none of them were prosecuted. Honold has brought statewide and national attention to the need for campuses and police officers to reconsider how they investigate sexual-assault cases.

“It’s been difficult to feel like I’m reliving my story all of the time,” Honold said in an interview in the Minneapolis StarTribune. “But I still know the good of my story will outweigh any negative consequences.”

Carlson says she’s ready to move on to the next chapter of her life. She told Time magazine that she thinks sexual harassment “is happening every single day to women in all walks of life… I’ve heard from so many women, from Wall Street to a tiny little town in Alabama. It’s everywhere.”

This changemaker recognition goes to all the women who step up to call out sexual harassment and sexual assault, who tell their stories and press charges for the betterment of all women and men.

Help is available for women who experience sexual harassment at work:
Minnesota State Bar Association offers assistance in finding an employment attorney and advice about how to find free or pro bono legal help. www.MNbar.org 612-333-1183 or 800-882-6722 helpdesk@mnbar.org
Equal Rights Advocates has a downloadable “Know Your Rights” guide, and an advice phone line. 800-839-4372 or equalrights.org
American Association of University Women
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Minneapolis Area office www1.eeoc.gov/field/minneapolis/index.cfm 800-669-4000

Sexual assault resources:
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

www.mncasa.org find help: rapehelpmn.org/find-help/ crisis line 1-866-223-1111
University of Minnesota Aurora Center
aurora.umn.edu get help: aurora.umn.edu/help/index.html