01.10.2011 Feature Article

Unmasking The Real Culprit: Justice For The Sexually Harassed

Unmasking The Real Culprit: Justice For The Sexually Harassed
01.10.2011 LISTEN

There are issues that some would rather sweep under the carpet than confront head on. I realise the sensitivity of this subject and hence, would be cautious in my analysis of issues. My language and usual style of writing would be varied to target a much wider audience. It is only time that would justify this effort as worthwhile or otherwise.

Our collective view on sexual harassment has been changing over the years. It is reasonable to believe that in any case, more needs to be done. To suggest that nothing has been achieved in the last few years would be a sign of being economical with the truth. If this article gets us talking about issues through the creation of awareness, then I believe the effort invested has proved meaningful.

I commend all who have taken various steps to address this issue. While lauding other writers who have written on the subject matter, I shall also use this platform to add my voice in further championing the need for rapid change. Although I do not believe that this article would bring an end to an age-old problem, I am encouraged that it may help a victim to seek help while possibly deterring some would-be culprits.

From my readings, I found different definitions given for the term “sexual harassment”, some narrow, and others equally broad. To make sure my audience understand the premise for my argument, I shall adopt the definition given by the UN Women's Watch which reads that sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

The point that needs to be made here is that sexual harassment, although predominantly carried out by men, has recently seen an increasing number of women being guilty of the same. In today's society, one can observe the old and young, rich or poor, literate and illiterate and even the believing and unbelieving perpetrating this act. Whereas usually the harasser may appear to have a form of power or authority over his/her victim, the absence of such does not preclude the occurrence of the act.

The effects on victims are multitudinous in nature and may include, amongst others, physical, professional, academic, financial and social as well as psychological and health consequences.

When faced with the effects of sexual harassment, most victims are confronted with the serious choice of remaining silent or seeking redress in the public eye. This can be likened to finding one's self between the devil and the deep blue sea or being between a rock and a hard place. It is a tricky choice to either come out and speak about the issue or suffer in silence. Helen Watson, a sociologist, sums the costs to the victim when she argues that: “Facing up to the crime and having to deal with it in public is probably worse than suffering in silence. I found it to be a lot worse than the harassment itself.” It so happens that some choose to move on quietly rather than talk about it. Who can blame the harassed for choosing the former option?

Considering that retaliation and backlash against victims are very commonplace, those who complain risk hostility and isolation from colleagues, friends and even family members, amongst others. It is not strange to assume that such people may even team up to protect not only the harasser, but the name of the family or institution as a means of damage control. I wonder how many families would want to have their names dragged into the mud by giving harassers up. The adage that says “never wash your dirty linen in public” remains a very potent force providing shelter to such harassers. Such a situation although thriving on conventional wisdom makes it very difficult to address the issue.

Having said this, it is worthwhile to pause and address an issue that further compounds the problem of sexual harassment. This has to do with those who accuse others falsely or lie about a supposed abuse either to extort money or embark on a smear campaign. Unfortunately, this leaves untold distress on the falsely accused who may spend much time and effort in clearing their names to little or no avail. Another factor that has further complicated the problem of sexual harassment is the hasty presumption of guilt before a fair trial. Furthermore, there has been a shift of the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused.

However, the fact remains that there are people who have been sexually harassed in one way or the other. It is a shameful observation that rather than bringing such to justice, our society sometimes shelters people who commit such crimes. The question then is: “How are we going to move on...?”

Erich Fromm perceives that: “As we ascend the social ladder, viciousness wears a thicker mask.” We find that some in society use the mask of power, money, status, reputation and titles, amongst others, to get away with crimes that the ordinary man would not get away with. There are some who have hidden behind such masks to repeatedly offend with impunity. These people usually have a well-crafted image of respect and restraint that rivals a saint's but changes into one of viciousness when alone with their target. This makes Thomas Dekker right when he says that: “A mask of gold hides all deformities.”

The advice from this piece to such 'powerful' people who habitually offend with impunity lent by their 'mask' would be for them to reconsider their actions. One day their cups would be full. Probably they can consider what Kevyn Aucoin says: “Life is too short to spend hoping that the perfectly arched eyebrow or hottest new lip shade will mask an ugly heart.”

For the victims who have had to go through such a difficult time, you may consider counselling as an option. If you are still facing the effects of a past harassment, you may want to seek medical or psychological or even spiritual help. This might do you more good than hiding in the dark shade of disgrace and reproach.

While I am totally against any form of sexual harassment, I would advise that people exercise caution in their dealings with others so as not to be deemed as being suggestive or to be mistakenly construed as a consenting or willing party. Additionally, provocative dressing should be avoided as it could wrongly be seen as being an invitation to harass.

Parents need to keep a watchful eye as young children cannot usually be accused of inviting would-be harassers. By creating an atmosphere of trust in the home, such acts against children would hopefully be nipped in the bud. Furthermore, education on matters of such nature should be intensified both at home and school to help curb this menace. All in all, everyone needs to exercise a good dose of common sense to avoid the likelihood of victimization.

Finally, we all have a role to play, whether as individuals, government, churches, schools, employers etc. Everybody can contribute in ensuring that we all live, work and worship in an environment devoid of sexual harassment. Unless we come together as a collective force and send the strongest message to these culprits that there is no place for such behaviour, this canker would worsen. As Victor Hugo notes, “Virtue has a veil, vice a mask”, so let us get the masks off the culprits and give much needed justice to the sexually harassed.

Dr. Frank Robert Silverson
Email: [email protected]