Unless you have been living under a rock, the term sexual harassment is one you have seen, repeatedly, and appropriately, and more often than ever, within the last few months. Call it what you want: rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, misconduct, impropriety, conduct unbecoming, or even unwanted behavior. We know what it means.
The fact that Bill Cosby “got off” with a mistrial does not clear him.
More recently, the actions of many women following their abuse by high profile men has led to a new term: “the Weinstein Effect.” It describes the public coming out by women of the indignities, and worse, they have suffered at the hands of men. It is full evidence of the pendulum swinging and “correction mode” taking place.
The news accounts of celebrities, sports stars, public figures, politicians, and more “high profile” abusers account for a pittance of the reality of the abuse suffered by women, every day, all over America.
The New York Times ran an article last November titled “49 Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct…”
USA Today’s November article was titled “More than 100 men accused…”
CNN got it right: “The incomplete list of powerful men accused…”
It is about time this issue is forefront.
There are equally as many lay definitions of sexual harassment as there are legal explanations. There are also countless authorities offering that the term cannot be fully or properly defined.
It does not matter if an encompassing definition can be formulated.
United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in a ruling in a pornography case in 1964 said that he could not define hard-core pornography… but that I know it when I see it.
And so it is with sexual harassment.
Women do not need a definition. They understand that being sexually harassed includes a look, a comment, touching, and violence. They understand sexual harassment is photos placed publicly, favoritism, exclusion, jokes, comments made to others purposely intended to be heard by them, social media postings, tweets, insinuations, opportunities for workplace advancement, and much more.
Women know when they are being sexually harassed.
Cosmopolitan magazine surveyed 2,235 women and found that one-in-three experienced sexual harassment at work at some point in their lives.
The Economist magazine says half of all women will be harassed in the workplace.
The New York Times in 2015 said 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault on campuses. Their survey however, they point out, included only 19.3 percent of those contacted and that the low response rate was an indication that the responses were not representative.
I do not know a woman who has not been sexually harassed. Family and friends included.
Historically, women were reluctant to report that they had been raped or abused. There was questioning self-reflection, the secondary agony of disclosure, shame, or embarrassment, and others tried to make them feel as if they did something wrong.
All of that: hopefully, no more. Thank goodness.
Forget the “punishments” for the harassers. Of course sexual harassment and abuse deserve both job and legal consequences. It deserves social ostracism. The goal moving forward, as has been the goal of many for quite a long time, is the elimination of the problem.
Thus, a definitive guide is needed to end sexual harassment.
- Understand that sexually harassing behavior is not being a man; it is being a punk for which no-one (except other punks) will applaud.
- Stop acting like you are still 10 or 11 or 12, at the beginning of puberty. The era of Neanderthals is over and the real world is not the Frat House. Stop bragging about dating or sexual “accomplishments.” In fact, go back to your Frat House and have a talk with the current crop of morons there.
- Think about what you do or say in the context of “would I want my mother, wife, or sister treated that way? Get over it if your mother mistreated you. No score is being evened by your actions with other women.
- Keep business and pleasure separate. The office is not a dating resource.
- Limit alcohol intake at all work related events.
- Conversations with women should be directed at their eyes.
- Ask women in your life what makes them uncomfortable.
- Talk to a woman you see being abused… ask how she is doing and tell her you would like to take some action.
- If a victim is okay with your plan, confront and report abuse you see by other men, immediately.
- Be allies for women. Correct water-cooler behavior of others even when women are not present.
- Understand “no” means no.
- Do not assume anything.
- Compliment accomplishment, not appearance.
- When complimenting appearance, begin with “may I give you a compliment?”
- Be proud of who you are.
- Speak up for yourself. Society now not only allows it, but both respects it and encourages it. You are not in any way responsible: you are the victim.
- Report any and all abuse. A little bit is not acceptable, and it will continue both in frequency and intensity, and the type of abuse will escalate. “He only did it this one time and won’t do it again” is wishful thinking.
- Do not flirt unless you want something to happen. This is your only contribution to causation. Remember that even your innocent flirting never justifies his inappropriate actions.
- Limit alcohol intake at all work related events.
Employers, Schools, Organizations, Sports teams, Clubs, Religious Groups, and any who bring people together:
To begin, employers and many others have legal obligations to make and keep their employees and members, etc. safe, and protected from harm.
Consequences can be many, in both civil and criminal forums, not to mention disdain and ruin from the pubic, if efforts are not made to prevent and act on sexual abuse. Knowing and doing nothing is as bad as perpetrating the act. There must be the creation of an environment of prevention. There must be a clearly defined mechanism for reporting and punishment. All individuals must know that there is zero tolerance.
- Make very, very clear what the rules are in your office, store, locker-room. Make clear that sexual abuse, harassment, etc. will not be tolerated.
- The more formal your organization, the more it is necessary to have a manual that members receive and sign, both as a condition of engagement (employment) and as a condition of continuing that engagement, acknowledging the rules. Yes – redo the manual and make EVERYONE sign it acknowledging they understand the rules. If they will not sign it, they can no longer be an employee, a member of the team, group or organization.
- Eliminate alcohol at all work / company / group events or gatherings.
- Do the right thing.
Here is to hoping that we will all hereafter play nice in the sandbox.