He felt he was in love again—so many years had passed
And every time he saw her face, his heart would beat so fast
It happened out in public—you could see it all along
But surely, it was out of love, and could not, thus, be wrong
He never hid his feelings—he was sure to let them show
And because he signed her paychecks, well, she couldn’t tell him ‘no’
He never went ‘too far’, of course—that anyone could tell
And if she felt uncomfortable, she hid it very well
He always was a charmer—he never was a jerk
He loved the way her hair would gleam, and she? She needed work.
He acted out of love, you see—it couldn’t be his fault
He saw it as a friendship… but she saw it as assault.
There is no end to the “advice” given to the victims of sexual harassment and assault. They should have done this differently, or that differently, or worn different clothes, or not smiled, or smiled more, or not been so friendly, or not so distant, or any of dozens of other mutually impossible things. So you can look for that advice elsewhere. This is for the people who are actually at fault.
I had a friend who engaged in sexual harassment. I was there when it happened, and did not see it. This advice is your chance to learn from my mistake. (The harassed woman did go to my friend’s supervisor, and he was disciplined and counseled, and the situation was resolved to her satisfaction. All of which I learned about much later, when I learned that what I had been witnessing was, in fact, harassment.)
My friend openly confided that he was utterly smitten with X. They seemed to have a great working relationship. She was working in his lab, on an honors project, gathering and crunching data. He was her advisor. I could go into more detail, but I’d rather not.
Now, it is entirely possible that he knew exactly what he was doing, and was deliberately manipulating the situation–including my own perceptions of what was happening–to his own end. That is quite possible. But I’m going to assume, for now, that what he told me was honest, was his very real reaction, and that he had no intention of harm whatsoever.
He was still in the wrong. He was still harassing, creating a hostile workplace, and perhaps more. It was not up to her to make his boundaries clear; he was in a position of power over her. It does not matter what his motivation was; what matters is his behavior, and his behavior was inappropriate.
Our culture thrives on stories of motivation, especially the ultimate motivation, love. Romantic comedies show us that stalking is ok, as long as it is for true love (which will be rewarded in the final reel). The old fogeys among us might remember what a cultural event it was when Luke and Laura got married; they met, of course, when he raped her. Love conquers all.
No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that my friend was in love (or claimed to be–for today’s purposes, I am assuming he is being honest). Actions do not have to be motivated by a desire for control, or power, or dominance; behavior does not have to reflect misogyny, or hatred, or disdain. The road to criminal behavior may be paved with the best of intentions.
Motivation is no excuse. Don’t search your feelings; look at your behavior. If you are in a privileged position, it is never up to your subordinate to set limits. By the time someone corrects your behavior, you have gone too far.
His case is what changed my thinking on this–I hope that, in a similar situation, I would now know better. I did nothing at the time, because I saw nothing. I was looking at his motivation, not at his behavior. I was wrong.
Learn from my mistake.