There’s no need for further evidence that State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky, the head of the International Affairs Committee, sexually harassed journalists in the parliamentary press pool. BBC reporter Farida Rustamova has an audio recording of an encounter with Slutsky, who flirted with her and groped her. Rustamova says he “placed his hand above her vagina” and refused to stop. RTVI deputy chief editor Ekaterina Kotrikadze and Dozhd producer Darya Zhuk have come forward with similar allegations. There’s only one reasonable explanation for three journalists independently describing sexual harassment by Leonid Slutsky: they’re telling the truth.
There’s also reason to believe that these three journalists aren’t Slutsky’s only victims. So far, the only women to come forward openly about incidents with the lawmaker are reporters at independent media outlets. We don’t know how Slutsky has behaved with women working for state-run publications or how he’s treated women who work for the State Duma. These people could very well fear for their jobs and even their careers, if they came forward, given that no national television network has reported so much as a word about the allegations against Slutsky. The deputy himself has dismissed the charges as a “low-level provocation.”
There’s nothing ambiguous about Leonid Slutsky’s sexual harassment of journalists. The relationship between reporters and their sources (especially between members of the parliamentary press pool and State Duma deputies) is as basic as it is public: it’s a simple transfer of information. The journalist asks questions, and the politician gives answers. That’s it.
Leonid Slutsky has worked in the Russian parliament since 1999, and there’s no way he doesn’t know these rules. His behavior shows that he thinks he enjoys complete impunity. He understands that journalists can tell people what happened, and he knows they can even record what he says. But he doesn’t care, because he’s certain there will be no consequences.
The term “harassment” doesn’t even exist in Russian law. The only intelligible reaction from legislators to the charges against Slutsky has been Oksana Pushkina’s promise to add a provision introducing penalties for such actions to new draft legislation. The only relevant statute in the laws governing the State Duma’s work is the requirement that members of parliament “observe ethical norms.” Yet it’s hard to imagine a more obvious violation of these norms, than a deputy inviting a journalist into his office and calling her “little bunny,” while groping her and asking her to become his mistress.
At the very least, the members of the Russian parliament have all the same information that we do. We know, which means they also know, that deputy Leonid Slutsky has been sexually harassing press pool journalists for many years. We know, which means they also know, that these allegations have been verified openly by multiple independent sources and an audio recording. We know, which means they also know, that Slutsky doesn’t even recognize these allegations, ridiculing his accusers and refusing to apologize. We know, which means they also know, that Slutsky will continue to harass women again and again, if he keeps his seat and faces no consequences. And it won’t only be Slutsky.
And we know, which means the State Duma also knows, that Leonid Slutsky must step down on his own or be forced to resign.