Florida Congressman Mark Foley's resignation amid revelations of an exchange of lurid e-mails to a teenage page is only the latest in a series of sex scandals involving underage employees in Congress. The attention brought by Foley's purported transgressions should prompt the country to a larger discussion of the reform - and possible abolition - of this antiquated system.
The practice dates back to at least 1839 in the US Congress, but the term itself harkens back to the medieval period. There are many variants of page in Romance languages (for example, paggio in Italian, pagem in Portuguese), and pages served knights, royal courts, and acted as apprentices for artisans. Mercutio, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , provides a brief glimpse of the historical role of pages in Act III:
Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch;Foley, as previously noted, is not the first politicain to engage in questionable behavior with congressional pages. Rep. Dan Crane had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page in 1980, while Rep. Gerry Studds admitted to a similar affair with a 17-year-old male page in 1973.
Marry, 'tis enough.
Where is my page?
Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.
It stands to reason that these public scandals are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, since victims of sexual harassment and abuse often keep hidden their trauma. Moreover, given the considerable power wielded by members of Congress, victimized pages have likely kept their silence on such matters out of fear.
The actions of Foley are particularly galling in light of the fact that the congressman had been chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, and recently sponsored legislation to crack down on Internet child pornography sites.
Yet perhaps it is the archaic system of congressional pages itself that needs to be addressed. We have no way of knowing in advance which legislators wil cross the line into reprehensible behavior, but we can certainly better protect children by abolishing the page system, or restricting the position to persons over the age of 18.
Perhaps Congress - so keen to enact legislation to "protect" ordinary Americans - can best lead by example, and start by ensuring that no child will ever be abused by Congressional predators.