As a blogger I stay away from controversial topics. This time I couldn’t.
As a former human resources executive and a practicing female, I have seen a lot of sexual harassment. In many forms. Some valid and some not.
I have counseled women ranging from saying no to a date request from a co-worker to someone who was date raped by a friend she knew and everything in between.
I was conflicted when Bill Cosby was accused. I loved his public persona. His nightclub act was family oriented. It wasn’t comprised of foul language and sexual innuendos. How could this be? How could he do those horrible things? Was the woman complicit? I was a Cosby defender longer than I should have been. Then came the procession of accusers. Very sobering.
How do you wade through accusations? It’s always his word against hers. How do you get to the truth?
For a good interviewer it doesn’t take long to find out if there is an element of truth to it. Fake stories fall apart. True ones don’t. The toughest part is validation — getting others who know something to corroborate. Especially men. They are not snitches. All of a sudden their memory goes dark. Bad frat boys become saint-like.
I’ll talk about three specific cases.
There was the woman who was date raped by someone she thought was a friend. No means no. She did not go to authorities. She was so embarrassed and blamed herself. She had voluntarily gone out with him. Would that be used against her? Would she be believed? She didn’t want to get looked at, talked about and judged. She didn’t want a stigma that would follow her. A letter A on her chest. An outcast.
The perpetrator was never called on it. Ever. He got to go on with life while she was much more fearful. It wasn’t a case of someone stealing her lunch money. This was the most private invasion possible. How do you trust again? It takes a long time and a lot of inner strength. Some never get over it. It affects relationships for years. It alters behavior.
Will she ever go to the authorities? I doubt it. It was a long time ago and there were no collaborators.
Women don’t go to the authorities. Unlike other crimes where the victim receives support, sex crimes come back like a boomerang. Were they complicit? Come on, it was a one-time thing, just get over it. Her reputation is skewered and her sex life examined under a microscope. Every guy she ever dated is reviewed despite the irrelevance. Why is she ruining him? He’s a good guy (seriously?).
As I found out while in denial with Bill Cosby, guys don’t do this just once. They have a trail of victims who don’t know about each other.
Before I worked in HR, a good friend of mine received a big promotion. Prestigious job. Good money. All went well until her marriage fell apart. It was a hard time and perhaps she looked vulnerable. After the divorce, her (married) boss started coming around like a moth to a flame. Like a fly to poop. Leaning over, being solicitous,bumping, touchy-touchy. She was alarmed. Reporting him would certainly affect her position. He may get “the talk” but for sure she would be moved to another department and lose her position. The woman always took the brunt of those things.
Sometime later another co-worker asked me how my friend liked her job. She told me that her sister worked for him and he was a leech. He was always pawing her so she transferred out. It was widely known but not acted on much like the problem with priests. This was in the 80’s so it wasn’t in medieval times. Not much has changed.
As for the “why didn’t they say something back then” question. I was groped by a carnival worker at a fair disembarking from a ferris wheel when I was eleven. (BTW I didn’t have boobs then!) I was so humiliated I didn’t tell my mother. I became stand offish around people. I twisted and turned whenever it looked like someone was coming toward me. (I was eleven!) It took me a long time to trust a hug. I remember that experience vividly and it was over 50 years ago. (Yet I never told my mother. I never talked about it to anyone.)
When I hear another accusation, my heart goes out. It takes a lot of strength to talk about it and a lot more strength to go public. You may as well put a bull’s eye target on your back. Expect people to become judgmental even when they don’t know the facts. Especially when they don’t know the facts. Especially when they haven’t experienced it and have no idea what it’s like.
As a society we need to teach respect for all women. It’s not hard. Most men are good people. I married one of the best.
Perpetrators need to suffer the consequences of their actions. Their parents need to stop paying people off. It comes out in the end and it’s not pretty.