December 1, 2017

We the people must hold elites accountable.

By Glenn

Power demands sacrifices.  In aristocratic societies, the elite demand sacrifices from the many.  In democratic societies, the many demand sacrifices from the elite.  The whirlwind created by charges of sexual harassment and assault are a healthy sign that our democracy continues to grow and mature. We the people must hold elites accountable.

For too long male dominated society blamed female victims of sexual aggression.   In Deuteronomy Chapter 22 God commands the Israelites to stone a rape victim if she didn’t “cry out for help though she was in a city.” This ancient form of “slut shamming” lasted well into the modern era.  Too often we hear our neighbors blame the “short skirt” or say “she was asking for it.” Society blamed the victim instead of making the man take full responsibility for his crime or abuse.

Thankfully, Modern America is much more democrat than the past.  Over the past fifty years women have earned positions of power in government and business.  At first, submission to sexual abuse was seen as the price of admission, a form of hazing.  Some people have gone as far to say that women seeking power or the spotlight bring abuse upon themselves.   These attitudes must be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Like many issues, we know how to solve the problem.  Powerful people, however, want to make it complicated to protect themselves and their positions.   We can stop the mistreatment and abuse if we listen to the legal experts.  They have spent a life time developing guidelines and standards to evaluate and enforce workplace behavior.

In 1986 the US Supreme Court addressed the problem of a hostile workplace in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.  Since then, the legal standard for identifying sexual misconduct has had pretty straight forward criteria.  Sexual misconduct refers to unwanted words and actions that are severe or pervasive.

Consent, or lack of, is the first criterion.  Touching co-workers without their consent or “talking dirty” to them creates a hostile work environment.  People in powerful positions, however, have an additional burden.  They can create hostility by forcing consent. The most obvious form of misconduct is an exchange of sex for a promotion or a grade, but there is any number of lesser favors required such as always asking the women to get the coffee.

The second criterion is severe misconduct.  A severe incident such as rape or grabbing another person’s genitals only needs to happen once.  There are no second chances.  Physical and verbal assaults are not acceptable.

The third criterion addresses the grey areas and is called pervasive.  These behaviors are the little things that add up over a short period of time.  Jokes about body size or physical anatomy fall into this category.  If a co-worker asks you to stop saying these things, then stop.  No means no. None of these criteria take a rocket scientist to figure out.  They simply require education.

America is no longer an aristocratic society.  Men and women are equal before the law.  They are equal in the workplace. They will be together in the workplace, school, movie sets and the halls of Congress.  Each and every one of us has a right to a safe environment, free from abuse and harassment.  When someone demands sexual sacrifices as a price for inclusion, we must protect the victim, not the powerful.

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