Back in his days as a conservative radio host, Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis wondered aloud how traumatizing it could really be when a woman is subjected to unwanted sexual advances, like a kiss or having her thigh touched.
CNN’s KFile unearthed the Republican’s comments during a review of his syndicated radio program, “The Jason Lewis Show”, which ran from 2009 until 2014. Lewis was elected to Congress in 2016.
> Lewis was discussing sexual harassment allegations leveled against then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain from his time as president of the National Restaurant Association.
> Cain had been accused of sexually harassing employees and having a 13-year affair. Two women who were at the National Restaurant Association while Cain was president received settlements after accusing him of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations at the time and was never criminally charged.
> "I don't want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?" Lewis said. "How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that's going to be seared in your memory that you'll need therapy for?"
> "You'll never get over? It was the most traumatizing experience? Come on! She wasn't raped," Lewis added, using a voice mocking an emotionally distraught woman.
These are not isolated comments, as CNN discovered: Lewis said he sees sexual harassment law as “unconstitutional”, as it curbs the First Amendment right to free speech.
> Lewis said he did not think off-color comments, jokes and offensive remarks about or to women rose to the level of needing government enforcement.
> While the First Amendment protects speech from government encroachment, the right is not without limits and sexual harassment is specifically prohibited by Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says sexual harassment in the workplace includes "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature" as well as "offensive comments about women in general." The commission says that although the law "doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is 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."
Aside from believing men’s right to free speech has been trampled by disallowing sexual harassment in the workplace, Lewis also believes women are simply unhappy with finally achieving equality with their male colleagues:
> "So they wanted to be treated like men," Lewis said. "Well, you know what, if you get into this environment and you're being treated like men, now you're complaining you're being treated like men."
Lewis is seeking re-election in Minnesota’s second congressional district, which CNN reported he narrowly won in 2016 and rates a toss up.
Neither he nor his campaign responded to a request for comment.