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SafeHouse Center SPEAKS OUT
Giving a voice to our survivors and advocates.

Sexual Harassment: Its impact and solutions

Monday, January 27th, 2020

By Barbara Niess-May, SafeHouse Center Executive Director

Barbara Niess-May

“It was taken out of context.”
“But he is such a nice guy.”
“What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?”
“Political correctness has gone too far.”

In the last week southeastern Michigan has met with the news of sexual harassment and misconduct, with the subjects being Senator Peter Lucido, and University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert. In the wake of the allegations and subsequent investigations, I have witnessed many conversations and questions surrounding these situations like the ones I listed above. Of course, facts do matter and due process is the right of the accused.

These sorts of statements minimize the person victimized and excuse this criminal behavior. As a community, we must start asking why those who commit these acts often move on with very few consequences. In these situations, the arc of justice is not quickly bending in favor of women. In a 2019 study conducted by the University of California-San Diego, it was noted that 81% of women surveyed experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. This includes unwelcome verbal, cyber, and physical sexual harassment in personal or professional situations. What is also shocking is the high number of incidences that occur in the workplace. Of those who had been harassed, 38% experienced it in the workplace. Sexual harassment is on the spectrum of violence against women, and is many times a starting place for further physical violence. And further, the reports of sexual harassment are a fraction of the actual incidences that occur daily in our country.

In most cases involving harassment, the perpetrator has or is about to assert power or authority over the victim. The power and authority is in relation to differences in social, political, educational or employment relationships as well as in age. Additionally, the perpetrator may be totally unaware that their behavior constitutes harassment or misconduct. However this does not excuse the behavior nor remove any accountability measures that must be taken. Comments like ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘I was complementing her’ are inappropriate because it is rooted with ill intent and taking away from company or organizational business.

Consider that these situations are not about flirtation, or political correctness, or anything close. These situations are on the spectrum of violence against women. Violence against women exists because women are valued less than men. Women earn less in the workplace, experience more workplace harassment, are less represented in the corporate world, hold a fraction of elected positions, and the list continues.

Violence against women is also about power and control. And, in the details that are available about Senator Lucido, he clearly sought to have control in the situation with the two women who have filed complaints. “Have(ing) fun with you” is not a casual remark. Placing a hand on the small of a woman’s back without consent, particularly for a long period of time, is inappropriate. It implies controlling her body and where it goes. It is yet to be known how Martin Philbert perpetuated sexual harassment, however it is likely to fall within the scope of the description of harassment above.

We must discontinue the abysmal response to those who have experienced harassment and end the culture of condoning violence and harassment against women. Workplace training and education on sexual harassment, developing safe and reasonable avenues for those victimized to report the harassment, along with holding perpetrators responsible are the best first steps organizations can take toward ending sexual harassment and misconduct.


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