The names are new. What happened is not: a businesswoman’s meeting with a businessman turns into sexual harassment.
Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, made unwanted sexual advances toward three women and, after being rebuffed, ended their professional relationships, according to a story co-reported last week by Portland Monthly and Pro-Publica.
These are allegations. The incidents reportedly happened years ago. Sondland and his lawyer deny them; however, they ring true.
“In all the cases, friends, family members or colleagues of the women recall being told about the encounters at the time. The cases span a seven-year period, ending less than a decade ago,” the story said.
Sondland recently filled the headlines for testifying about his role in President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. This is a separate matter, though it speaks to Sondland’s overall character.
Regardless of what anyone thinks Sondland’s service as ambassador or his contributions to civic life and philanthropy in Oregon, no woman should ever be subjected to sexual overtures or other harassment under the guise of conducting business or any other reason.
Yet, how often do associates conveniently overlook such unconscionable behavior — usually by men, but sometimes women — rather than lose a valuable client, investor, donor or political friend?
It is not just famous or rich men who do it. It occurs at the most mundane levels within our community and rarely is it exposed, let alone pursued through the legal system. Often women just try to deal with it, try to dismiss it and try to move forward.
Do not judge them. Listen to them. Believe them. Help them find powerful voices of support.
The women in Sondland’s case have a famous figure to point to, which garners attention. Most women who experience sexual harassment don’t, and no one wants to hear them out. Their story is uncomfortable and traumatic, and it unfolds unevenly over days or even years in comparison with the alleged perpetrator’s well-crafted denials. Perhaps the women have a perceived grudge, or even a legitimate one, that could be used as a weapon against them.
In this case, one of the women is Nicole Vogel, CEO and co-owner of the Portland Magazine company. Consequently, the magazine partnered with ProPublica to interview Vogel and past associates. She was not otherwise involved in writing, editing or reviewing the story.
Sondland’s statement included a reference to her: “These untrue claims of unwanted touching and kissing are concocted and, I believe, coordinated for political purposes. They have no basis in fact, and I categorically deny them. ... It is distressing that this underhanded journalism was initiated by a source angry that I long ago declined to invest in her magazine, the same magazine now presenting its owner’s outlandish claims as if the reporting is somehow objective.”
Regardless of anyone’s politics or anyone’s position in life, sexual harassment is never OK. Got it?