Update: Ok I knew this when I wrote the post but I refrained from saying so (for the time being), but PZ posted about it a little before I did and he got a ton of emails all saying is it ___? and saying the same name. The guy in this account is Ben Radford.
Oh gosh, sexual harassment again. Again? Yes, again. (Also, still.)
Karen Stollznow reports on hers at the SciAm blog.
“I was sexually harassed for four years,” I admitted to a colleague recently. “That’s awful!” he bellowed in outrage and genuine concern, before he promptly changed the subject. Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with colleagues, especially when you’re the victim.
Well sure. You might start talking about a buddy of theirs.
Sometimes we don’t even know how to identify sexual harassment because its methods are changing. Today, sexual harassment is not always as bold, brazen and blatant as the boss who slaps his secretary’s ass. It doesn’t have to involve leering or groping. It happens in a virtual work environment as much as it happens around the water cooler. More people are telecommuting although physical distance doesn’t prevent staff from being targeted by a harasser. Harassment from afar can include sending unwanted communication of a sexual nature, including emails, texts, instant messages, mail, tweets, phone calls, images, Facebook “pokes”, and stalking on networking sites.
Yes. Yes it can.
Confronted with these stereotypes and influenced by the various forces of social conditioning, we often don’t know how to react to sexual harassment anymore. Here are some of the attitudes and opinions expressed to me, both directly and indirectly, when I began speaking out about my situation.
When they didn’t know the details, some people reacted with concern that was tempered with cautiousness. “Could you be overreacting?” or “Maybe you misread him?” There was suspicion over the delay in reporting the incidents, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” and, “Why did you continue to work with him for so long?” Not observing the harassment was a cause for doubt. “I couldn’t tell there was anything wrong!” Some were prejudiced by their positive personal experiences with the harasser, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do that!” My claims were also dismissed with the old adage that boys will be boys. “It’s a guy thing,” and, “That’s just how men behave.” One man offered a backhanded compliment, “Hey, what guy wouldn’t be interested in you!?”
So what you’re saying is, people haven’t learned anything over the past thirty or forty years.
As often happens in these situations, the blame is shifted to the victim. Like the woman in The Drew Carey Show, the victim may be labeled a prude or “uptight”. She lacks a sense of humor. She’s crazy. She may be portrayed as a troublemaker by the accused and his supporters. To undermine her claims, she might be branded a serial complainer, where sexism and sexual harassment are often confused, “You know, she’s accused other men of sexism before.” The case may be demonized as a witch-hunt, and become a cautionary tale told by those who fear that they too could be branded a “harasser” over the slightest comment or glance. “Watch out, or she’ll accuse you too!” I was held up to scrutiny in this way too. According to gossip about me, I gave him mixed-signals, I led him on, I’m flirtatious, and I’m a dirty little slut.
Demonized as a witch-hunt? Surely no one would go that far!
Alternatively, both the accused and accuser are blamed for the situation. Those who didn’t know the extent of the harassment reacted as though we simply don’t play well together in the sandbox. “Why don’t you two just get over it and move on!” The matter was misconstrued as a lover’s tiff, or that we were a couple in an on again, off again relationship. Others didn’t have time for my problems, “I have my own worries.” One person was surprised that I confided in him, saying, “It’s none of my business.” A number of people commiserated but then moaned, “I’m sick of talking about sexual harassment!”
Some were sympathetic, but from a safe distance. They chose to stay out of it, because they “hate drama.” I didn’t ask to become involved in a real-life soap either. I feel stigmatized by those who feel too awkward to face the situation, or me. I had a mutual friend who barely contacts me anymore, as he is unable to take a “side”.
From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related. Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer, but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”.
Uh huh. Aren’t they always.
Sometimes an organization under-reacts to the claims. This was my experience. Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”. When I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy. I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.
Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone. This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects the harasser.
The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered work anymore from this company. Perhaps that’s for the best considering the way they have treated me. I have since discovered that this company has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.
Maybe in a century or so companies will do better than this…if they’re not all under water by then.