Harassment: It’s not about sex, it’s about power

Woman stopping a man from touching her

A manager recently asked me about the sexual assaults by Charlie Rose and Louis CK. He said, “I don’t get why they did those things! They have the money to hire prostitutes.”

Sexual assault, rape, and illegal harassment are not about sex. They are about power. These men use sex to intimidate, humiliate, and establish their dominance over these particular women, who are dependent on them for their jobs and careers.

According to University of California psychologist Dacher Keltner, writing in the Harvard Business Review:

“Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse. These findings from laboratory studies tell us that abuses of power are predictable and recurring.”

Those who might wonder if women really need to fear retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment need look no further than this case decided on November 15, 2017. Ms. Kassapian was an attorney and Administrative Law Judge for the City of New York. One day she walked into her supervisor’s office to find him demonstrating a sex toy to two colleagues. When she objected, he continued to “flaunt” it that day and for several days after that. After she complained a month later, she was fired.

The Court of Appeals held that Ms. Kassapian could take her case to trial because her allegations were sufficient to prove a violation of the law prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation.

A recurring question raised about many of the allegations that have hit the news is why women did not complain immediately, and this case begins to answer why. Women can’t afford to lose their jobs. And they may have complained to someone, but not received support. In the Charlie Rose situation, for example, numerous women did complain to his executive producer, a woman. “She would just shrug and just say, ‘That’s just Charlie being Charlie.’”

The culture was different as well. In the 1970s, current Senate candidate Roy Moore was an attorney general who prosecuted rape cases. He is now accused of driving Leigh Corfman, a 14-year-old girl at the time, to his home where he fondled her. In those days, she did not receive support from her friends. According to the Washington Post, “After talking to her friends, Corfman says, she began to feel that she had done something wrong and kept it a secret for years. ‘I felt responsible,’ she says. ’I felt like I had done something bad.’” (Alabama law then and now includes a section on enticing a child younger than 16 to enter a home with the purpose of proposing sexual intercourse or fondling of sexual and genital parts. It is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.)

What you should do:

Individual men and women: if you see something, say something. If someone tells you about a situation, even if she says she doesn’t want you to do anything, you must take it to HR.

Management: No news is not necessarily good news. You may not get complaints of harassment, but harassment still may be occurring. Bring in an outside consultant like Fair Measures to conduct an audit from the top down. The research shows that the most likely violators are at the top of the company. Have women been fired or have they left under suspicious circumstances? Have they been talked out of making complaints? Have executives looked the other way when one of their own has acted inappropriately?

Human Resources: bring in live training for harassment prevention. No online course is ever going to give targets of harassment confidence that they will not be retaliated against for filing complaints. When employees see that the company has put resources into harassment prevention, and they are able to ask questions of one of our attorney-trainers, they are more likely to speak up. Contact us about our Managing within the Law and Respectful Workplace classroom workshops.

 

Posted 12-05-2017

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.

2017-12-06T17:58:19+00:00

About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.