SEXUAL HARASSMENT PERCEPTION IN 2017
Over the last few weeks, much has been talked about regarding sexual harassment. There’s a popular movement on social media that uses hashtag “me too” #metoo by those that have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes. A number of actresses and other prominent women have come forward to offer their experiences publicly, as well as thousands of other women in all walks of life.
In 1980 the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) defined sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances or lewd comments or behavior that created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. http://theweek.com/articles/500609/sexual-harassment-fine-line. It was also defined as a form of discrimination where employment or advancement decisions were based on a person’s physical assets or appearance over performance.
Prior to the ‘80s, it was often accepted that men would whistle, make suggestive remarks, and occasionally touch someone in what we might call an inappropriate way – including kissing, or resting his hand on the extreme lower back. Most people have never included rape as an accepted behavior, but even that definition began changing in the second half of the 20th century. In the 1970s marital rape became recognized, and by 1993, all states had some form of law against it. Date rape is another area that has been controversial. By today’s definition, date rape can occur at any time in a relationship from the first date to between two people who have been intimate physically and consensually in the past, but one party no longer wants to have that relationship.
Groping – always considered crude and disrespectful – became even more frowned upon, considered unwanted sexual intimacy. (Groping can be defined in more than one way, from the innocent groping in the dark to find something or someone, or groping for words, but also to clutching or grabbing a person in ways considered personal or sexual such as on the breasts, buttocks or genitelia, even through clothing.) Most other suggestive behaviors like flirtatious remarks, off-color jokes and so forth were still tolerated into the ’90s.
At the end of the 20th century, things changed. Making a “pass” at a person was no longer accepted. Where a cat whistle was once considered a compliment to a woman, by the late ’90s it became obscene. Any kind of physical contact, especially at work, became taboo. It was a confusing time for both men and women. Some women were offended by a smile or a genuine compliment while others didn’t mind hearing an off-color joke. Men who were used to joking around with women in a flirtatious way suddenly found themselves being accused of harassment.
Which of these could be considered sexual harassment in 2017?
Both, or neither, depending on the circumstances. The question is not whether the behavior is appropriate, but whether it is sexual harassment. In the first picture, could he be helping her to a chair because she felt ill, or asking her out on a date? In the second picture, could she be congratulating him on a job well done? Or could she be taking advantage of a situation where she knew he would have to respond in a friendly manner?
Some people are naturally more affectionate than others. We’ve had to learn to withhold hugs, touching someone’s arm, or giving a pat on the back. I was a bartender for a good part of my younger years. I wasn’t easily offended, didn’t mind the flirty behavior, and knew how to tell someone to keep their hands to themselves. In my life, I have had moments where I felt someone was out of bounds, say, by holding too close or making pelvic thrusts on the dance floor. These were not, to me, emotionally traumatic, but rather examples of aggravating and tasteless behavior. Almost always, a woman knows the difference between an attempted rape and a crude overture. Back in the ‘70s, a man I knew slightly offered me a ride home because my car wouldn’t start after work one evening. When we pulled into my driveway he reached for me and by the way he did it, I knew exactly what his intentions were, though we had never so much as held hands or kissed. I was able to fight him off, but others are not always that lucky. I was momentarily frightened, but again, it hasn’t affected my life in any other way. Another person might have reacted much differently, though. (He was not an employee where I worked, so I couldn’t report him, and it might not have done much good back then, anyway.)
From the male perspective, my husband loves language jokes, which include double entendres (words or phrases that can have both an innocent and a sexually charged meaning), puns, and other word play that can sometimes be mistaken for a come-on. He would never touch a woman offensively, but was once called to HR because of a complaint filed against him for sexual harassment at a company function. I was with him at a tailgate party hosted by his company. Foam “noodles” were handed out to wave at the game. Nearing game time, a group of us began talking together while walking towards the stadium. Everyone was laughing and kidding around and at some point my husband reached forward and tapped one of the women on the head with the foam noodle and said something like “there, I banged you.” It was in response to some joke someone had made. Since I was right there, I can tell you that my husband was simply being playful, and not interested in furthering a relationship. But that’s what landed him in HR and had him taking a class about sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, that went on his work record.
It took some time for us to change our natural habits so as not to offend anyone. We still joke with one another, but not so much with our friends, and definitely not with co-workers.
Sensitivity really can’t be measured. When we’re hurt physically, we sometimes refer to a high or low “threshold of pain.” Doctors sometimes refer to a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extreme pain. With mental or emotional sensitivity, it’s not that simple. No one wants to be objectified, man or woman. Each of us want to be considered for our own worth and abilities. Some of this stems from the equality movement; equal pay and equal opportunities for all. But it’s also just a human reaction to people who don’t show respect and seem to feel entitled to acting on their basest instincts without regard to our feelings.
All reported claims of sexual harassment must be looked at seriously. Not only is it the law, but some forms of harassment turn into rape, whether it’s Bill Cosby, accused of plying women with drugs, or “casting couch” directors with their powers to give or withhold a job. Furthermore, some people, both men and women, truly suffer emotional distress from the unwanted familiarity, even if it doesn’t result in rape. Often, victims of sexual harassment carry some measure of guilt, thinking it must have been something they said or did to cause the other person to think approaching them in such a manner would be acceptable.
Sometimes people make accusations out of jealousy or retaliation. Rejection can lead an admirer to want to punish the person who turned them down for a more involved relationship. This can become a stalking situation, which is also a form of sexual harassment, and should be reported as soon as one realizes they are being stalked. This form of harassment is considered criminal and can often lead to more dangerous behaviors. Both men and women have been stalkers.
An easier way of getting quick revenge for rejection is to accuse one’s “love interest” of some kind of sexual overture. False accusations of rape have put more than one innocent person in jail. With less serious accusations, harm is still done. The falsely accused person could lose their job or career. Families can be affected, including causing divorce and financial loss through defense expense.
Emotions can cause the appearance of sexual harassment, yet upon further inspection, the accuser may realize that whatever happened was not intended to be sexual in nature. In this case, the complainant may not have lied, but may have simply misread the situation. This is where a good arbiter can aid in reaching the truth of the matter.
So are there “15 minutes of famers” out there who take advantage of opportunities to lay claim to things that simply didn’t happen? Sure there are! There are people who take advantage of an opportunity. It’s extremely rare, but something that investigators and attorneys look at when there are several complaints against one person – especially if that person is famous or wealthy. In some opinions, this kind of opportunistic accusation is a reverse form of sexual harassment. http://www.management-issues.com/opinion/1184/avoiding-reverse-harassment-and-discrimination/ . Proving it is difficult. The defendant is trying to prove something did not happen. A negative is the hardest thing to prove! Also, something can seem to be sexual harassment, and actually be an accident, a misunderstanding, or some form of unprofessional conduct that is not truly sexual in nature.
A person who knowingly makes false accusations can be tried in a court of law for slander or for defamation. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation to be found guilty of this crime (which can be either a civil or criminal case, depending on the circumstances) three things must be proven. For ordinary citizens those are (1) proving the statement is false, (2) proving it caused harm, and (3) the complaint was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. For a celebrity or public official, it must additionally be proven that the accusation was made with actual malice.
An excellent and in-depth article by a university complaints investigator regarding the various degrees of sexual harassment, and/or the assessment of interpretation and intent of the complainant can be found at https://academicmatters.ca/2011/10/false-allegations-of-sexual-harassment-misunderstandings-and-realities/ .
The majority of people under 40 in the 21st Century know the boundaries. But the boundaries have changed over the years. What was accepted even 20 or 30 years ago is no longer tolerated. Laws vary from state to state on Statute of Limitation for rape cases, but what about sexual harassment? According to https://employment-law.freeadvice.com/employment-law/sexual_harassment/time_limitations.htm , there are work limitations as short as 180 days.
It is important for people to feel that they can come forward with complaints of sexual harassment, but it’s also important to take into consideration what was the standard norm during the time the alleged harassment occurred. To claim whatever harassment occurring now is due to it being accepted in the past does not excuse it today. However, to besmirch someone’s reputation by referencing something from decades ago that was considered a minor or non-flagrant action at the time of occurrence is reverse harassment, as well, unless the behavior is still ongoing. Withholding complaints over fears of losing one’s job is certainly understandable. However, if it is happening to you, it is probably happening to someone else, as well. That’s something to consider while you determine your course of action. But to suddenly claim harassment 20 years after you left your job, without knowing for sure that it ever occurred to anyone else or is an ongoing issue, might be opening yourself up to a defamation or slander lawsuit. The other unfortunate outcome is ruining a person’s life when they have already accepted the new norm and now realize that their unwanted attentions are out of line, and have changed their attitudes and behavior.
By all means, if you have been sexually harassed, molested, or raped, you should report it! If you aren’t sure what to call it, or whether it is actually something wrong, seek the advice of a counselor, an HR professional, a doctor, or if you’re in school, talk to your parents, the school nurse or counselor, or a trusted teacher. You can also call the police and express the fears you have, explaining you aren’t sure if it’s something that needs to be reported. They have experts that can talk with you. If you know or suspect that someone is intent on harming you or stalking you, report it immediately. If you are a male, you are susceptible to the same treatment, so if you have a problem, handle it through the proper channels; don’t try to “man-up.”
There are crisis hotlines in most cities and towns. There is a national sexual assault line as well. That number is 1-800-656-4573 (1-899-656-HOPE). You don’t need to have actually been raped to call. There are also rape centers you can go to in many areas, that will help you deal with the multitude of feelings and concerns you have. Don’t hesitate to call for help! – EndRead More