WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, on Thursday walked back controversial comments about sexual assault she made a day earlier.
The issue has become a topic of national conversation since dozens of prominent women accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault.
Johnson acknowledged her initial comments on the matter "regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue."
The flare-up started on Wednesday, in an interview with the Dallas NBC affiliate.
"I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman's responsibility as it was a man's — how you were dressed, what your behavior was," Johnson said. "I'm from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That's the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves."
In a follow-up question in the same interview, Johnson insisted she meant for the comments to empower women.
"I think we also need to start talking about the power that women have to control the situation. There's law enforcement, you can refuse to cooperate with that kind of behavior," she added. "I think that many times, men get away with this because they are allowed to get away with it by the women."
Johnson's Wednesday comments met scathing online criticism, both on news sites and on Twitter.
On Thursday afternoon, her office released a lengthy statement pulling back from those sentiments.
“Sexual assault and harassment has no place in our society," the statement said. "This is something I believe deeply. And at each turn of my professional life, I have made it my mission to fight for women’s rights. I do not blame the victims of sexual assault for the actions of their assailants.”
Johnson came to Congress in 1992. Democrats branded that cycle "The Year of the Women," as a reaction to the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee panel that held now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings.