November 17, 2017

Sexual Harassment and Abuse: The Lid Has Been Torn Off


The last few months have brought a unsettling problem back into the spotlight: sexual harassment and abuse charges against several powerful and well-known men. From politics to entertainment, religion to business, these lurid stories of women, and some men, being victims of unwelcome, inappropriate, and illegal sexual advancements are being reported with stunning regularity.

The Me Too hashtag on Twitter shows almost 2 million uses in just the last month. Researchers say that an overwhelming majority of women, and a surprisingly high percentage of men, have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. 

Until this all came to the foreground, I am afraid I was blissfully unaware of the size of the problem. I know that many men in positions of authority use sex as a tool of power or intimidation. Reports of affairs and cheating are depressingly common. 

Yet, the current list of people affected along with the social and personal costs of these crimes is beyond anything I knew existed. I should have been more aware. I raised two daughters. I had the normal dad concerns  about teenage boys and hormones. I also knew that at least one of my daughters and my wife had suffered through periods of sexual harassment at school and work.

But, until the news headlines and #MeToo campaign made this a topic of conversation, it wasn't a part of their past I thought about. Now, they tell me every female they know suffered some of the same sexual indignities. 

I was shocked at how close to home these stories can strike. This isn't just a Hollywood or Washington issue. I became angry at the people who do this every day and get away with it until someone has the courage to risk everything by saying, "Enough." 

I do caution myself that an accusation isn't always a fact. Today, just the suggestion of a sexual misdeed can end a career or a life's reputation. So, care must be taken that someone doesn't use these charges as a weapon. However, when multiple people report similar behavior or details are specific, there comes a feeling that behind the smoke is a nasty fire. To simply dismiss the charges as old news or fake is not acceptable.

Frankly, as a male, I hesitated even writing about this topic. I am aware that the emotional and physical scars on the victims are real and long-lasting. The mix of feelings these assaults trigger are more complicated than I could ever understand. 

But, as a human being, regardless of my sex, I can be appalled at the affront to personal dignity and sense of self that these events cause. To stay quiet, even if I say something wrong, seems even worse.


25 comments:

  1. Bob, Thanks for posting this! My husband and I both had to take action as managers with men accused of sexual harassment. As a woman who had been sexually harassed by a supervisor, and I was one of three in the department who were harassed by this man, it was important to me to get to the truth and support the accusers. In my case, my supervisor was supported until the other two women came forward. He still wasn't fired, but removed from any position of authority. All three of us resigned at some point and moved on. My career was adversely impacted. That was 32 years ago. It's way past time for sexual harassment to be treated seriously by people and for workplaces to take appropriate action. This is not about sex. It's about power and control. #MeToo.

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    1. Stories like yours are so common, and so under-reported because of our culture's habit of making certain subjects taboo. Power and sexual roles are hard rocks to push. Thank you for sharing, Kathy.

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  2. Thanks for your post and your own thoughtful self reflection on the topic. Some people may be thinking, "but this is a retirement blog." The truth is that many of the women finally able to courageously come forth with their stories, are not young things anymore. They are older women who have suffered in silence and pain for years. Prompted by the posts of other women, and the memories it brought forth, I recently came forth with a #MeToo that happened over 30 years ago in graduate school, but my intended career plans were also "adversely impacted" as the poster said above. It was basically a scenario of "sex for favors," to which I said a forceful "no," but it resulted in vindictiveness by the professor and a major disruption in my life.

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    1. Thank you for raising the question about this subject being addressed on a "retirement" blog. As both you and Kathy noted, along with my wife, sexual harassment that happened decades ago affected the course of one's life. Hurt and anger don't stop just because someone is of a certain age.

      Hopefully, the public publicity, ruined careers, and the freedom to address this subject will empower women and men of all ages to stand up to these power plays.

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  3. I've had my own harassment issues over the years, going back to step-fathers and up to bosses or co-workers who felt they could get away with it. I never took it quietly and stood up for myself, sometimes very loudly. Still any push back always seemed hollow. I'm not the least bit surprised by all of this, I just wonder what took so long and how can the groper in chief keep his job. I have to admit, Al Franken was a crushing blow. I worked with comedians for a while and, aside from the kiss she described, his photo was clearly meant to be a joke. A bad joke, none the less. If you've ever watched SNL from their early years you know this was part of the skits. Still, we women put up with it. I had built in armor from childhood and when it came to co-workers I could push back with the best of them. Let's just say, no one pushed me in any inappropriate way more than once. But, when I think about these young girls in Alabama it breaks my heart. The groper in chief at least had to pay off his accusers, this Alabama s.o.b. thinks he's just above it all and his evangelical base seem blind. I hope they all go down in flames!
    b

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    1. You have summarized the situation and our confusions, disappointments, and hopes well. I will add nothing to detract from your message.

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  4. Thanks for writing this. In Britain I think there is still a long way to go before many women will admit that they have been affected by this. I know I'm personally starting to say that I'm part of MeToo - as its happened to me (more than once). Thank you for being a male voice that is saying this way of treating us is unacceptable.

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    1. I would hope everyone would reject this behavior, male or female, and speak out against it whenever possible.

      I saw a lot of mistreatment of women during my early days as a radio DJ, not from the people at the radio station, but from the musicians who were performing at concerts and expected groupies to be available. It was sad to see.

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  5. I thought the groper in chief was from Arkansas. I grew up when older men who had read Erica Jung & thought they needed to liberate our young sexuality. I had two different roommates raped-one by a college athlete and the other at a "Hollywood audition". Both left school and nothing happened to the attackers. It was common for older men to proposition younger people (male and female)in their chain of command. Being "trapped by the cooler" was about being groped, not chat. You didn't say anything because anything except to your friends. Work did nothing. Men, like Wilt Chamberlain,were highly looked at for the number of people he could bed and rate. I am amazed at the number of men who say they never knew. How could you listen to Bill Clinton's escapades and not say, "something is very wrong here?"This is a tip of a huge iceburg. Sadly.The only up side is , maybe, we can help to slow it down in the future. Remember, many of these acts are about power, not the actual sex.

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    1. My understanding is that sex has very little to do with the motivation, except as a representation of power and control.

      Bill Clinton should not have gotten away with what he did, or still be treated like a celebrity. In the same vein, I find it impossible to believe that every single one of the 16 women who mentioned the current occupant of the White Hopuse is lying. But......

      What will it take to slow this type of behavior down? Real consequences, and not just for Hollywood people, but for anyone regardless of rank or status.

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  6. As important as this issue is, it moved from Hollywood to Washington right when the Republicans are slamming a bad budget through the House and the Senate. Was the timing planned? Hard to say,since it has fall out all the way up to donald. Crazy times.

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    1. I hope this is one genie that can't be stuffed back in the bottle. There is too much damage done to let this fade into the background.

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  7. Thank goodness times are changing. Remember when the press actually covered for the Kennedy brothers and their antics? There is one thing that bothers me, though. Considering the current political climate and all the willingness to play dirty politics, it would be rather easy to find someone who will make a false accusation in order to alter an election or destroy a career. Multiple accusers who do not know one another (as in the Moore case) are more believable. But with so much at stake, there is room for a bit of dirty dealing, particularly when they know they will not testify in court. We say that one is innocent until proven guilty, but your life can be destroyed while you are proving your innocence, as has been the case on some college campuses. So I think we have to be careful where we take this. I have a daughter and granddaughters that I want to protect.... but I also have sons.

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    1. Yes, the potential for vindictiveness or having alternative motives is a danger. A single accusation should not be enough to end a career. The odds are far greater of the charges being true if there are multiple, credible accounts.

      This whole area is so emotionally charged that mistakes and overreactions are going to happen, but being afraid to bring legitimate charges should not occur. Maybe society will on day change to the point where this becomes an aberration rather than common.

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  8. #METOO
    I have been wanting to tell for a long time. Maybe I will on my blog.

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  9. Addressing this injustice is a long time coming, but like every other issue it seems people retreat into their tribal enclaves and harden their positions. I read with horror the tweet of a Republican staffer who (in referencing the Alabama senate race) stated, "I would rather have a pedophile in the senate than a Democrat."

    Are there not basic standards of decency that we all can agree to? Have we well and truly lost our way as a country? Have we really fallen this far?

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. What upset me the most were the various pastors in Alabama that took that position. I am hard pressed to reconcile those thoughts with the Bible that I read.

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  10. I am retired and 64 years old, and I can't think of any of my co-workers and friends who haven't had to deal with this on some level over the years. Personally, I had to file an HR complaint to get a guy to back off that I literally swore at and told him I'd have him fired. He didn't back off, and I filed. It because a long drawn out documentation, but turned out he had (to a lesser degree) harassed two other women. He was reprimanded but never fired. Go figure. It's high time. #metoo
    --Hope

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    1. Oops. It *became* a long drawn out...

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    2. Everytime a personal history like this is shared, it becomes so obvious that is is a universal problem. The premise that virtually every female has either been a victim and/or know others who have is true.

      This whole picture is so wrong.

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  11. Hi Bob! I commend you for speaking out as a man and on your blog. I was fortunate that my #metoo's were relatively mild compared to some of the horror stories of my female family and friends. As you say, I don't think there is any woman alive who hasn't been touched (NPI) by this harrassment in one way--big or small. Thank goodness it is finally coming to light and people/women are finally speaking up about it in a big way. But in so many way this addresses a very inherent problem with most woman in that we have been conditioned to "be nice" and be seen but not heard. Anytime we try to silence someone who has been abused, we teach one another that it is acceptable. Let's continue to encourage everyone women and men, to speak out and LOUDLY, when this happens. The more we point it out the better chance we have to helping it to change...and don't even get me started with the current administration!!!! Time for change! ~Kathy

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I did debate whether posting something on this subject belonged on this particular blog. But, the offense of sexual harassment and worse has no age barrier and is not the domain of one sex.

      While it is mostly women who have had to endure this forever, their spouses or male friends are affected, too, by the harm done to their loved ones. And, as cases like Kevin Spacey have shown, sexual harassment isn't confined to only women.

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  12. I know. It is shocking. And I'm also struck by how long the damage lasts. Sometimes people are critical of women or men who wait so long to come forward, but another way to look at it is that they were ashamed, or afraid, or simply believed the culture that told them that it was no big deal. And yet what is clear is that when they do come forward, the emotions are often still raw, the pain still real, years and even decades later.

    Thanks for writing about this. Bringing the topic into the open for acknowledgment and discussion is the way to stop it. Look at other things that were "accepted" until there was enough outcry to expose the malicious and educate the ignorant.

    Nicely done.

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    1. Your compliment is very much appreciated. This was not an easy post to write or simple to respond to all the hurt evident in the comments.

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