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One Small Voice: Let’s converse about sexual harrassment

I have been pondering various aspects of the sexual harassment tsunami that has washed over us throughout the last couple of months. I have been reading as much as I can from a wide variety of sources to glean diverse perspectives about this kind of behavior.

As I began my day this morning, when I would start to put words to paper, so to speak, my son announced that the latest icon to fall was Today Show host Matt Lauer, followed later in the day by Garrison Keillor, host of  “A Prairie Home Companion” on NPR. The dam has broken, it seems, but the flood does not abate.

Last week I wrote that this issue is far to complex to sum up in a simple, single opinion. Again, list making has been my go-to process to find order in chaos. The first thing I did was to compile what I consider to be those related truths, in a most basic form, upon which most, if not all, reasonable people can agree, when it comes to human sexual behavior.  Here’s what I came up with:

1.  Human sexuality is a basic component of our nature.

2.  Men and women are attracted to each other for purposes of perpetuating the species.

3.  Sex can be a beautiful expression of love between two people.

4.  Sexual exploitation of adults by either sex is unacceptable.

5.  Sexual exploitaiton of children by adults of either sex is unacceptable and repugnant.

Seems simple enough.  So from here I looked at sexual exploitation to determine some basic truths associated with that behavior.

1.  It is used to establish dominance/power over another person.

2.  It is used to debase the victim.

3.  It is used to fulfill the sexual desire of the perpetrator (in my opinion, an unnatural form of sexual expression).

4.  It is the consequence of “mob mentality” as in the case of gang rape.

Again, this seems pretty simple, and, I would imagine, is also something most of us already know.

In a perfect world, if this is all we had to deal with, it would be simple to proceed with a judicial approach to sexual harassment. In a timely manner, allegations would be brought. An investigation into the accusation would be made and evidence gathered. Innocence or guilt would be ascertained. Appropriate justice would be meted out, and any necessary counseling would be provided to the victim. This, too, seems relatively simple.

But we live in an imperfect world, where the waters are muddied by a myriad of factors, among which are:

1.  False accusations, made for fame or money or both; false accusations made to distract from other issues; false accusations made due to faulty memory.

2.  The varied sensibilities of human beings. What to one person might be innocent flirting, to another might be blatant, disgusting conduct.

3.  Cultural norm variations.  What at one period in time might be socially tolerated behavior is, at another period in time, thoroughly abhorrant.

4.  Hierarchy of harm. Is “copping a feel” equatable to violent rape? Is violating a child by touching over clothing less horrible than intercourse?

5.  Statutes of limitations, which make prosecution difficult when allegations are not brought to light right away.

And then there is the existence of different standards for the rooting out of bad behavior in the first place. We have seen that, in the entertainment industry, allegations of sexual impropriety may result in days or weeks of sensationalism and speculation, resulting in self-commitment to a rehab facility, or firing from a studio, a current television show or film, or total ostracizing by the industry.

In the news business, so far, it has resulted in immediate firing from high-profile jobs. In modern politics, to date, we have seen no results of such allegations, aside from bad press and finger-pointing.

In our current social and political atmosphere there has been, in my opinion, too much of the “oh, yeah?  well what about…?” response to each incident of reported, alleged sexual impropriety. It seems to be in our nature to cloud the issue with our own emotional reactions.

For now, I feel safe stating the obvious. Unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature is never acceptable. Sometimes people make mistakes in their interpersonal interactions and attempt to connect in ways that are inept or clumsy or insensitive. When this happens, and an individual is made aware of the bad behavior, it should be addressed and corrected immediately.

That means we all need to be taught and empowered to speak up when we are the recipients of the bad behavior, especially when speaking up can halt and minimize the behavior. This would ensure cultural reinforcement of the higher standard of conduct.   

There are so many ways to come at this. As I wrote last week, I’d really like to hear from readers with their own personal takes on the varied facets of the topic. Agree or disagree, we could work at coping with this seeming epidemic together. And there is more to be said.

10 Comments

  • The problem of cultural and individual standards has been pervasive. In cases I witnessed. If the victim simply makes clear the comments or actions are repugnant, the action stops. If the “signals” are not clear, the perpetrator continues the action. The key is “Say no,” and support by others, either colleagues or superiors. Sometimes, the victim suffers being treated as a prude. That is the price of freedom.

  • “Woke” is when Feminists suddenly realize that the clear message they sent in 1998: “If a powerful man sexually assaults you – you’re on your own,” was a less than optimal choice.

    So, despite your admonition, I have to ask, “What about Professional Feminism?”

    Hillary stood by her man when he was dallying with Gennifer Flowers, and she ranted about vast right-wing conspiracies after he played hide-the-cigar with Monica Lewinsky. Feminist leaders stood by them both. Throwing Monica, Kathleen, Juanita and Paula under the bus wasn’t about sex, it was about power.

    If you wonder “Why are so many Progressive men now being exposed as long time sexual predators?,” it’s significantly because the Church of Feminism gave indulgences to anyone who supports abortion – exemplified in 1998 by reporter Nina Burleigh, who said she’d be “happy to give [Bill Clinton] a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.” Monica Lewinsky was just collateral damage. As are the women who were molested by Harvey Weinstein. They knew not even Feminism had their backs, so how could they possibly stand up to Weinstein’s power?

    Possibly excepting the DNC, what other group could be such effective allies in excusing the abuse of women?

  • I feel relatively certain that if we were just talking about right-leaning individuals accused of such behavior, your analysis would have included considerably less nuance and just a wee bit more “tar and feathers”. I cannot agree more that the situation we are seeing has given the courage to come forward to mostly true victims that hid in shame from acts perpetrated against them by those in power. Thank you for pointing out that It also brings out opportunists motivated by money, politics and fame.

    That said. the common theme among various celebrities, executives and media personalities to which credible accusations are leveled is one thing…ego. Some career choices involve positions of perceived power over others. Some elevated to these positions appear to have personality faults that cause them to lose sight of their human equality with others and take serial advantage of victims subject to the power that everyone around them believes or behaves like they have. Some of the accused will fall to simple destruction of very lucrative and comfortable livelihoods; it is all but certain that the worst of them could find themselves in prison.

    The ability to control our urges is what separates humans from animals. For this reason, a man’s attraction to a woman (or man) that isn’t his wife (or spouse) has no place in a work relationship. Avoiding intimate situations in or out of work settings where any “confusion” can arise isn’t really that complicated. As for children, the evil pathology that drives those who take advantage of children is a sickness that must have no place in the world.

    At the end of the day if the current frenzy leads to media figures, celebrities, politicians and others coming to a realization that they must respect the men and women fellow citizens they encounter on a daily basis, it is a good thing for everyone. Hopefully it will also bring an end to a media that in the past has collectively and shamefully enabled those in power by excusing or dismissing serial abhorrent behavior and ridicule of victims because the accused happened to be the most powerful person on the left side of the political spectrum.

    Thank you for inviting readers to speak out on this issue.

  • Thanks to readers so far! This is exactly the kind of commentary I had hoped you would share. I still don’t have any hard and fast answers to the questions in my own head. I find it helpful that by keeping my comments fairly general they have inspired the reactions you have shared. Because I tend to write without benefit of broad conversational input I cannot always anticipate what others have to offer by way of experience or observation. Please keep the comments coming.

    • Duane, this article was very interesting to read. I’m not without some similar thoughts, although at this point I’m not ready to embrace everything to the same degree as the author. I believe that women are the stronger sex, and that for too long we have not embraced the strength and demanded a superior role in the world at large. I’ll be rereading this piece. I have already begun a piece on victimization. It will require a lot of reflection and digesting of what you have offered. Many thanks.

  • I spent a lot of time working on issues surrounding criminal sexual conduct felonies. I came to understand the devastation those crimes engender, especially when the perpetrator is a trusted individual. I don’t know if this gives me any insight into sexual harassment, but I think some dynamics are similar. Of course, you are right: these action are not all equivalent. I do know that sex crimes are done by men* regardless of age, economic status, political party, or religious affiliation.
    *I did have two exceptions to that, out of a large sample, with two women convicted of sex crimes

      • Yeah, Duane, that’s the problem. Women sex offenders. If you read what I wrote, you know that I report what I learned from years of experience. In those years I dealt with two women sex offenders, out of many convicted felons. Let’s say several to many dozens of male sex offenders. I pointed out that sex crimes are not the sole province of men. Justice stats indicate that males of the perpetrators of sex offenders 96 to 99 per cent of the time.

        • Mr. Basura,

          I thought anecdotes were the order of the day since you started with some, but the point is that statistically, women do commit sexual assault vastly more often than they’re assumed to. Especially by the criminal justice system.

          Here are some non-anecdotal examples. The first two are from an LGBTQ support site and are somewhat dated (2010/2011). Since the issue is still generally ignored, we can assume it hasn’t changed much.

          There is much more in these than I will present here, and you can check them out at the provided truncated links.

          _Female Perpetrators and Male Victims of Sexual Abuse: Facts and Resources_
          forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/female-perpetrators-and-male-victims-facts-and-resources.pdf
          “…law enforcement and social services providers often literally discount male accounts of sexual assault. We knew of cases where police refused to open a case for male victims, even when they were cut up and bleeding in the local Sexual Assault Treatment Center. When a local sexual assault service provider told us that 50% of the men who called asking for services “were lying,” it was even more obvious: many “official” counts of male victims are systematic undercounts.”

          _Female Perpetrators and Male Victims of Sexual Assault: Why They are so Invisible_
          forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/Female-perpetrators-and-male-victims-why-they-are-invisible_mjw.pdf
          ““When probable cause exists to charge a juvenile with a sex offense, the offender is 46.5 times more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime if he is male than if she is female,” reports Thomas B. James, J.D., in his 2003 book, Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed to Know. A 1994 article by Lisa Lipshires, “Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem,” relates many stories of district attorneys and judges dismissing cases against women because “women don’t do things like this” or “public sentiment would not allow for such charges to be brought….” Lipshires also reports that a psychologist who trains district attorneys about sexual abuse has found that often, “there will be a female attorney on staff who is trying to prosecute a female perpetrator [of a male victim], and the male attorneys will say, ‘Look, we’re not going to waste the taxpayers’ dollars on this. This is every man’s fantasy…’”

          Teaster and colleagues’ 2008 meta-review of elder sexual abuse studies concludes “that this is a problem involving primarily female victims and male perpetrators with few identified male victims and female perpetrators,” even though some of the same researchers participated in a study that found that fully 40% of alleged sexual abuse victims were male, and 26% of the alleged perpetrators were female.”

          I think we’d probably agree that males are less likely to report sexual assault by a female, and less likely to be believed.

          This example is from Slate, a leftwing online magazine.

          _When Men Are Raped_
          “A new study reveals that men are often the victims of sexual assault, and women are often the perpetrators.”
          http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/04/male_rape_in_america_a_new_study_reveals_that_men_are_sexually_assaulted.html

          “For some kinds of victimization, men and women have roughly equal experiences. Stemple concluded that we need to “completely rethink our assumptions about sexual victimization,” and especially our fallback model that men are always the perpetrators and women the victims…

          But gender norms are shaking loose in a way that allows men to identify themselves—if the survey is sensitive and specific enough—as vulnerable. A recent analysis of BJS data, for example, turned up that 46 percent of male victims reported a female perpetrator.”

          None of this excuses the high profile males gracing the headlines lately, but to dismiss female sexual predation as minuscule is a mistake. As the anecdotes I shared tend to demonstrate.

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