If anyone is “delusional” about the karaoke bar interaction between state Sen. Cheryl Kagan and lobbyist Gil Genn, it would seem to be Mr. Genn, whose statements about what occurred included so many inaccuracies that if it weren’t caught on video, one would think he wasn’t even there.
And that’s the real problem here. His behavior during the episode — which Ms. Kagan publicly deemed a “#MeToo” moment — and later in defending himself seems to show he has so little awareness of what a woman would consider appropriate physical contact with a professional acquaintance that it doesn’t even register when he crosses that line. And the worst part is: He’s pretty typical.
A security recording of the event, which occurred in a crowded barroom at Castlebay Irish Pub, shows Mr. Genn standing to the right of Ms. Kagan. He has his left hand on her back. He leans away for a brief instant and then back in, keeping his hand on her so it rubs across her jacket as he moves. Then, he bends in close to speak into her right ear and plants his left hand firmly on the left side of her waist, where it stays for a couple of seconds. When he releases her and pulls away, his hand brushes downward, grazing what has to be her behind, assuming she’s of standard anatomical proportion.
The event appears to have gone down pretty much as Ms. Kagan said it did, though her accounts somehow make it out to be more sinister than the contact that appeared on screen, and in media interviews she mischaracterized her response to him. She said she turned her back to freeze him out, but in reality, she let the brief conversation continue.
That’s nothing compared to Mr. Genn’s memory lapse, however. He originally called her claims “delusional,” saying he not only didn’t touch her or her “tush,” he was “100 percent certain” he couldn’t have, because his own hands were full with an umbrella and coat. And he even went so far as to say he “consciously avoided the all-too-common Annapolis legislative ‘hug’ many legislators use to greet one another.”
Then, after securing the video and releasing it, he stayed firmly entrenched in this fantasy world, declaring the recording vindication and proof that he “did not grope or grab her.” (So much for: “I didn’t even shake her hand.”)
No, he didn’t grasp a handful of flesh; that’s true. But he was intimate and inappropriate, whether he intended to go below the belt or not, and he clearly needs a course on keeping his hands to himself. (More on that later)
But is he, as Ms. Kagan has said, a “serial harasser” based on her experience and the stories of others? I don’t know. All I have to go on is this one recording — which is one more than is found in most such situations, I might add — and their words. Thus far Ms. Kagan’s, while rather dramatic, have proven more accurate.
Still the incident in the video, at least, looks more like the kind of ignorant overstep women deal with all the time, which doesn’t make it right, of course, but also doesn’t bring it to the level of criminal or career ending.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers sexual harassment to be “illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” The law “doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious.”
This incident was serious to Ms. Kagan. To another woman, it might not be. That’s one of the great challenges to overcome in analyzing these kinds of interactions: Intent and perception play outsized roles.
You might just be a huggy, touchy guy who mistakenly grazes a breast or a butt now and again, but you mean no harm. And she may consider any lingering touch anywhere on the body to be too much in the work world — and vice versa. Or vice vice and versa versa; sexual harassment doesn’t require opposite genders or a male perpetrator.
Take singer Katy Perry. She’s under fire for tricking a 19-year-old “American Idol” contestant into a lip lock (his first kiss) on the season premiere, which aired Sunday. The young man is taking flak over it, too, for complaining, because Ms. Perry is something of a sex symbol to fans. But imagine it were Simon Cowell and a teen-age girl — not so double-standard-y anymore, right?
So if you’re still unclear on how best to behave, here’s a simple rule: Don’t touch, or limit yourself to a handshake with everyone with whom you’re not currently intimate. If you can’t do that, at least keep your touch to two seconds or less and only on an arm or upper back — as in “a pat on the.”
That rules out the waist, lower back and certainly the abdomen, which Ms. Kagan says Mr. Glenn twice touched over the years before she threatened to tell his wife (he denies it).
In fact, the EEOC recommends that as a first step: informing the offender “directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.” But if her account is true, Mr. Genn apparently didn’t get the message. So maybe he did in fact need the public flogging as a wake up call. One thing is clear: He’s likely to avoid that “Annapolis hug” from here on out.
The rest of Annapolis would do well to follow suit.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.