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“We Can Do Better”: Notes on the Latest News on Abuse of Power, and the Attempts by the Powerful to Escape Consequences

So the Nevada National Security Site just made news again… Just not in the way we’ve become accustomed to in recent weeks. While the dispute over the federal government’s (formerly) secret plutonium shipment rages on, it’s another dirty secret that’s being revealed and sparking outrage.

So what’s this secret, and what does it have to do with the latest resignation from the Nevada Legislature, the most closely watched Las Vegas City Council election in decades, and the renewed controversy surrounding the late pop superstar Michael Jackson? Here’s a hint: Abuse.

Why is Nevada at the center of another #MeToo scandal?
Photo by Ken Lund, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

On Monday, former security guard Jennifer Glover announced a lawsuit against Centerra, her former employer and the private firm contracted by the federal government to provide security for the Nevada National Security Site. In addition Gus Redding, a former coworker of Glover, filed his own suit against SOC, the firm that eventually took over the Nevada National Security Site contract from Centerra.

Glover alleges she was sexually harassed and assaulted by other coworkers, only to experience retaliation from supervisors for daring to report the abuse. Redding alleges he also reported the abuse against Glover, only for supervisors to retaliate against him as well.

Typically when we think of our national security infrastructure, we think of “good guys” who are doing all they can to keep us safe. At the very least, it’s unnerving to think that staff at these national security institutions must worry about their own personal security. However, it’s even more frightening to think of how many more predators may be out here, how great of lengths they go to avoid consequences for their actions, and much further this societal crisis goes.

Returning to Neverland and reassessing our deference to celebrity

Like millions of others around the world, I was at the edge of my seat last week when I watched Leaving Neverland. And like others, I had to ask: Why were we so wrong about Michael Jackson? Why were we so willing to overlook the warning signs? And why are we only reevaluating Jackson’s legacy now, nearly a decade after he passed from this earth?

While Jackson briefly resided in an estate just west of Downtown Las Vegas near the end of his life, Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege that Jackson sexually abused them as children during his reign over the storied Neverland Ranch near Los Olivos, California. They now say they were too afraid to speak their truth back then, and Jackson’s defenders point to this in accusing Robson and Safechuck of lying to defame Jackson’s character now. If anything, the Jackson estate’s reaction illustrates why it’s hardly ever easy for famous abusers’ victims to come forward.

Of course, Jackson is far from the only celebrity whose legacy is now being reassessed due to allegations of abuse. Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly has pushed Georgia and Illinois law enforcement agencies to reopen criminal investigations into a 25-year-long trail of physical, including sexual, abuse. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft positioned himself as a generous humanitarian who condemned violence against women, only to be named as one of several rich and powerful men who sought “services” from trafficked Chinese women at a Jupiter, Florida, massage parlor. The Australian’s investigative podcast series The Teacher’s Pet pushed Australian law enforcement officials to investigate, and ultimately arrest, former rugby star Chris Dawson late last year for the likely murder of his spouse Lyn Dawson in 1982. So far Kraft is avoiding any felony human trafficking charges, and it only took decades of tireless push-back from victims for R. Kelly and Chris Dawson to be held to account.

Once again, this all too familiar cycle of abuse comes home

Photo licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

If we need more examples of high-profile abusers who refuse to take any responsibility for their actions, we need not look further than right here in Nevada. This morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that Steve Wynn personally met with U.S. Treasury Department officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin himself, about using a provision in the 2017 Trump-GOP Tax Plan to reduce his tax liabilities… And that he met with them after he resigned as Wynn Resorts’ CEO and from the Republican National Committee’s elite fundraising operation following the revelation of over 20 years’ worth of employees’ complaints of him sexually harassing and assaulting them.

And this week, a shady website launched with attacks on the women who’ve come forward with stories of former Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) harassing them. Yet thanks to Kihuen’s residual name recognition and the possibility of exceptionally low turnout in this year’s municipal elections, he’s hoping his faux-cutesy plausible deniability act will convince just enough voters to reward him with a seat on the Las Vegas City Council.

Photo by Andrew Davey

While the Wynn and Kihuen stories continue to attract statewide and national attention, other reports of top officials abusing their power are at high risk of being overlooked. Just this week, the Nevada National Security Site lawsuits have fallen off the headlines. And just today, Assembly Member Mike Sprinkle’s (D-Sparks) resignation amidst misconduct allegations has folks in Carson City scratching their heads and wondering why perhaps another abuser got away with it for too long.

The good news of Sprinkle’s resignation appears to be that the reforms the Nevada Legislature adopted after the Kihuen and Mark Manendo (D-Las Vegas) scandals appear to be working in exposing abuses sooner. The bad news of the rest of the news, however, is that we have a far greater societal crisis that has allowed so many abusers to get away with their crimes for far too long.

Can we finally “do better”?

As I’ve admitted in the past, I’m a true crime addict. For the last two months, I’ve been binging on The Teacher’s Pet and Cold. Cold is a podcast series that goes into extensive detail in revealing the long trail of abuse and neglect that probably led to the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, the murder-suicide that took three more lives in the Powell family, and a host of questions on how the system allowed for all of this to happen under our noses.

I was incredibly moved by how KSL (the Salt Lake City NBC affiliate) reporter Dave Cawley wrapped up yesterday’s finale: “We can do better. We can be better.” He also noted, “My understanding of what constitutes domestic abuse has changed, recognizing it’s not just violence. You have manipulation, you have control, you have verbal threats or put downs that all qualify as abuse and can be seen as warnings of violence to come.”

Whether it’s the contractors at the Nevada National Security Site who may have punished whistleblowers for calling out abuse, or it’s Steve Wynn weaponizing his multi-billion-dollar company to force women into submission, or it’s Ruben Kihuen using his political clout to avoid consequences for his actions, or it’s celebrities like Chris Dawson, Michael Jackson, and R. Kelly who mask their predatory behavior in “handsome bravado” or “pure, child-like love”, abuse is abuse and wrong is wrong. No matter if the abuser is someone we respect, someone we love, or someone we think is too powerful to ever be held accountable, we just can’t afford not to hold abusers accountable for their actions.

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