Let’s begin with the truth – something rare in Washington, DC. While Sexual Harassment/Assault may result in physical injury, it is almost certainly, damaging to the psyche of the victim. Most victims say that being the victim of Sexual Harassment is a life-altering experience.
Although some will debate this point, it’s been determined that Sexual Harassment is not about sex. It’s an exercise of power! In truth, I must say that perpetrators of Sexual Harassment can be either male or female, heterosexual or homosexual and that anyone can fall victim. As it happens, men are most frequently identified as perpetrators and women as victims. The most common element is a disparity in power – real or perceived. Often it’s about physical power, but it can also be about the power to deny a benefit.
If not before, by now, we all have an elementary understanding of Sexual Harassment, but how far must we look back to find a cause or reason for acts of Sexual Harassment? Going back, can we stop at the Women’s Lib Movement? Or, can we begin our examination with the Suffragettes? Is it more correct for us to reach back to the Founding Fathers and inquire as to why women were not referenced in the Constitution and why the rights and privileges of citizenship were not conferred therein? Even white women had to fight for the right to vote, and the men preventing them from voting were their fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, husbands, etc! Still many of these are men who are opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment for women!
While it’s common to see the TV Talking Heads expressing shock and dismay related to the increasing reports of Sexual Harassment, I haven’t heard one give, what I believe to be, an honest determination of cause. Most will agree that the acts signal a use of power, but I’ve heard none use the word CHATTEL.
Throughout the history of western civilization, women have held a subordinate social position to men. Until the 1940s, married women in America were assigned to work in the home. Although there was work for single women, they were encouraged to marry and take their place in the home. Accordingly, men assumed responsibility for household and family decisions, and for initiating sex. It was considered permissible, even required, for men to beat their wives “to show their love.” Give me a break! This gender dominance carried over to the workplace and Sexual Harassment was the ultimate result.
Thus far, only very few have learned anything new with this reading. More than a historical perspective, we badly need a remedy. I’ll offer my thoughts.
WE NEED CLARITY: In the heated environment of recent disclosures, it’s been easy to assign the same degree of egregiousness to all acts of Sexual Harassment. I believe that each violation must be evaluated independently. Although examined in the light of Sexual Harassment, Roy Moore’s violation of juvenile females was more criminal in nature than others that have been reported. Verbally suggestive language can be Sexual Harassment, but injurious physical contact elevates the violation to another level.
WE NEED STANDARDS: As with the existing uniform structure between them, Federal, state and local governments should establish simplified uniform policies regarding the adjudication of complaints of Sexual Harassment. Private sector protections should be established under the EEOC or state provisions. When people know better, they’re charged with doing better.
I have numerous nieces, sisters and female friends. I want them to have equal opportunity to work in any area they choose and feel that they can do so without fear of sexual harassment, sexual abuse or sexual discrimination. No one who prevents them from doing so should get a pass – not even #45.
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.