INDIANAPOLIS — All this week, a disciplinary hearing centered on the allegations of four women that they were groped by Attorney General Curtis Hill has riveted the Statehouse.

I don’t know if Hill will be found guilty.

I don’t know whether former Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, who is presiding over the hearing, will determine if Hill’s actions amount to battery. I don’t know whether the Indiana Supreme Court, in whose hands Hill’s fate ultimately rests, will find that his behavior warrants punishment, possibly as severe as losing his license to practice law.

I do know who should be found innocent: The Dress.

As Hill’s attorneys questioned the four women about their allegations, over and over the focus moved away from Hill’s hands and back to The Dress.

Back in March 2018, after the legislature concluded that year’s session, Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon decided to change clothes. She put on a black backless dress, with the back scooping low to drape the waist.

In short, a cocktail dress.

She went to the annual end-of-session party of legislators and lobbyists at a local bar in – can you believe it? – a cocktail dress.

Reardon described Hill putting his hand on her back, dropping it to her waist, his thumb sliding under the fabric and his other fingers grasping her buttocks. She described him later coming up to her again, oozing “that back, that skin.”

And over and over, as Hill’s attorneys questioned her and the other women, we came back to one thing: The Dress.

“A lot of people there were in jeans and casual clothing?” attorney James Voyles asked at one point.

“Was there anyone else at the party that had a dress like that?” another Hill attorney, Donald Lundberg, asked.

We all know the implication. That’s a back begging to be touched, right, guys?

The focus is shifted, away from the witness accounts of an intoxicated Hill running his hand down her back, to The Dress.

Did we mention it was backless? Maybe we should say it again. Black Backless Dress.

Over and over, through multiple witnesses, Hill’s attorneys repeatedly asked: What was she wearing?

Here’s a news flash: Whether the woman is in a bikini or a burqa, her clothing is never an invitation.

What about the other three women, the ones not in backless dresses? Niki DaSilva, was wearing casual clothes. Hill, she said, told her to “show a little skin” to get a drink at the bar.

Just a joke aimed at the lawmaker tending bar, Hill testified. A “joke” that made DaSilva’s jaw drop.

She moved away, but later saw another staffer, Samantha Lozano, looking uncomfortable as Hill spoke to her. She moved back to be a buffer but found Hill’s hand on her back. She tried to move his hand away but, she said, he forcefully pulled her hand down, till he touched her butt.

Her clothes weren’t on trial. But don’t kid yourself.

All the women were on trial, too.

“What about your friend Gaby?” Voyles asked one witness about Gabrielle McLemore Brock, the fourth woman whose allegations now have Hill fighting for his professional and political life. “Was she drinking pretty heavily that night?”

And we all know what that means, too. It’s well past midnight. At a bar. The women had drinks. Wink wink. She must be okay with having a guy rub her back – a slow, sexual back rub, as Brock described it.

And did we mention that one of them was in a backless dress?

Is it any wonder that DaSilva and Brock both said in the hearing that they regret coming forward? DaSilva ended up leaving her job with the Senate Republican caucus and taking a job in Washington D.C. because the atmosphere in the Statehouse had become too difficult after the allegations became public.

And, Brock said, it’s been 18 months of no consequences for Hill.

Through the week, we heard two stories. One, from Hill, about a jovial guy who had a few drinks but nothing too much, who was just being friendly and, unfortunately, had to lean over people with his hand on their back to talk due to his hearing deficiency. The other was from four women and a few witnesses, who said that unwelcome hand stayed too long and strayed too far.

And years of seeing women’s accounts dismissed tells us this, too:

For a man, having a few drinks and being friendly is a defense.

For a woman, having a few drinks and being friendly is an indictment.

Especially if you dare to wear a Black Backless Dress.

Mary Beth Schneider is an editor at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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