It’s hard to argue that the #MeToo movement hasn’t managed to accomplish a number of positive things over the past couple of years, including the downfall of many prominent, abusive men. (Well, almost entirely men, anyway.) But another side effect has been the increased scrutiny of the use of nondisclosure agreements, particularly in cases of sexual assault or harassment. This week, in Boston, lawmakers are hearing from activists who want to see the state formally ban such agreements and they’re being championed by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, a person who knows a thing or two about NDAs. (Boston Globe)

A state lawmaker turned up the heat on political leaders Monday, challenging the governor and speaker of the House to ban nondisclosure agreements that prohibit women from speaking about sexual harassment cases.

The call by Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, came as two former Fox News hosts who won landmark sexual harassment settlements brought their national campaign to end nondisclosure agreements to Boston.

“This is the next fight in the #MeToo movement. We’re so close to making real change and progress and taking this issue out of silence is one of the biggest barriers still before us,” said Gretchen Carlson, the Fox host who first sued former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.

Carlson, along with her former Fox colleague Julie Roginsky, has a non-profit dedicated to banning the use of NDAs in many cases. And there are certainly plenty of them out there to hold up as examples. Take, for instance, the recent news about Hunter Biden’s “stripper baby mama” and the child support payments he’s going to be making. The agreement allows Biden to avoid submitting various documents to the courts. The amount of money being paid wasn’t revealed and the child’s mother has gone radio silent about the whole thing. Was there an NDA involved there? Should there have been?

The plan in Massachusetts isn’t exactly straight forward. It would primarily ban NDAs in taxpayer-funded settlements involving sexual harassment. It would also ban them in the private sector, but provide an exception for cases where the victim was the one to request the NDA.

When I wrote about this concept last year, I noted a number of problems with any such proposal. Many people are frustrated with NDAs because they would prefer the truth to be out there and available for the public, but it’s not always that simple. For example, if you allow an exception for the victim (generally a woman) to request the NDA, that doesn’t stop the accused harasser from saying, “Hey, you could always ask for an NDA.”

But if there is no NDA, the accused has very little incentive to offer any sort of financial settlement. Some victims may need the money very badly and perhaps not want their name paraded around in public as having been involved in such matters. Shouldn’t you leave them that option if it’s really their preference?

There really is no good solution here for the victims as far as I can tell. Women involved in such disputes with their employers frequently are unemployed after the conflict. A blanket ban on NDAs may take away the only avenue some of them have to keep their houses financially afloat in addition to dragging them into a media circus they might prefer to avoid. Of course, the flip side of this coin is that the NDAs may allow serial perpetrators to continue abusing other women who will have had no warning about the nature of their abusers. As I said, the entire situation stinks on ice and I’m frankly not seeing any better, realistic option at this point.