How sexual harassers get away with their behavior

The appalling saga of serial sexual abuser San Diego mayor Bob Filner gets steadily worse. Once the allegations came out and the first victim went public, there has been a steady stream of women coming forward describing similar events. The Daily Show chronicles his disgusting behavior.

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Now a ninth woman Emily Gilbert has come forward with allegations that he groped her.

“He grabbed me a little too tight, then proceeded to slide his hand down my arm and then did a little grab on my derriere,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t want to make a scene. There were kids around.”

The people he did this to were not all young and powerless or those in his employ whom one can understand being reluctant to report this behavior for fear of repercussions. Among them were “a retired Navy rear-admiral, a dean at San Diego State University, the head of the Port Tenants Association and a businesswoman.” So why did they not speak up immediately?

Gilbert’s use of the phrase “I didn’t want to make a scene” gives us a clue as to how people like Filner get away with their behavior for so long without the victims blowing the whistle. They take advantage of the fact that they know that most people try to avoid ‘making a scene’, especially if they are taken by surprise. I can imagine that the immediate reaction would be shock and disbelief that such a thing could happen. This would be followed by the desire to escape the situation as quickly and quietly as possible without anyone else noticing, out of sheer embarrassment, and maybe having a vague feeling that they might be blamed for the situation especially if the abuser is a prominent member of the community These predators seem to instinctively sense this and use it to their advantage to escape the consequences of their actions.

From a distance it is easy to say that these women should have immediately denounced his actions but we should not underestimate the paralyzing effect of surprise. I really don’t know what one can do, other than plan in advance a stock set of responses to deal with most situations so that one has prepared oneself mentally as to how to put these abusers in their place.


  1. says

    First, let me say I had no idea that anyone could make me feel better about the buffoon for a mayor that Toronto* has.

    From a distance it is easy to say that these women should have immediately denounced his actions but we should not underestimate the paralyzing effect of surprise.

    The surprise coupled with the indoctrination women get to play nice and not rock the boat, plus the harassment reporters of abuse face which is often harder to live with than the initial assault…

    *I don’t actually live in T.O. but it’s the closest large city whence I get most of my “local” news.

  2. maudell says

    Also, my personal experience is that sexual harassers are pros at deniability. In fact, that’s how the story got out; the first woman who went public first told him he was behaving inappropriately. Filner challenged her to find a single inappropriate action he did. While it was fairly easy with him because of the clarity of his harassment (he asked her not to put panties on at work), it is not always the case. Even the panties thing can be dismissed as ‘just a joke, men talk to each other this way all the time (implying the woman is not tough enough to cope in a competitive man’s world), etc.’ It’s actually not easy to have the right response when you are taken by surprise. And often, single event could be a fluke, but not the aggregate. For example, I know people have touched my ass by mistake before, as I have to other people too before (moving fast). However, there’s a certain way one can touch your ass where you know it’s not a mistake (like if it was cupping/pinching), but it is very hard to ‘prove’. And yes, when it comes to sexual harassment, you better have a well stacked set of proof to back your complaint up. Even then, many people just won’t accept any degree of evidence. Or they’ll accept the good old Sharia rule of needing 4 male witnesses.

    Bleah. I can’t believe how many times I kept my mouth shut in clear cases of sexual harassment to avoid being in that situation.

  3. Thinker says

    Agreed; women are socialized not to speak up when being abused and/or harassed. They’re also punished for speaking up when they’re being abused. Right now in Georgia, there’s a man who has stalked and harassed a woman for more than 20 years. It started when they were in junior high and she signed his yearbook. That innocuous action brought her to his attention, and for more than 20 years he’s been harassing her and her family, even moving from a small town in Maine down to Georgia just to more easily make their lives a living hell. Just recently his actions were so very egregious that the police had no choice than to arrest him….and his mother and randos on the internet are blaming the woman. It’s all her fault this delusional creep stalked her for decades.

  4. gordonduffy says

    It annoys me that many are classing this as a sex scandal under an umbrella with Spitzer and Weiner. This is not a sex scandal. As John Oliver made clear, this is assualt.

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